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Many parents might feel worried on finding their teenage children addicted to grim visions of a future in which global warming has made the seas rise, the earth dry up, genetically engineered plants run riot and humans fight over the last available scraps of food.
I’m very aware of my mortality, but a teenager doesn’t feel that,” she says.
“These novels are like scary rides in the fairground.” What my own teenagers have responded to in the genre is not just the action-packed plots but the flawed, complex characters that inhabit them.
What makes the new dystopian novel part of the zeitgeist is that it appeals to teenage girls – and is predominantly written by women.
Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies (2005) imagined a post-apocalyptic world in which every teenager is “ugly” until radical surgery at 16 – plus a kind of lobotomy – makes them into supermodel “pretties”.
“All your generation want to do is go and see comedies like Noises Off,” my daughter says, a touch accusingly.
“At least we’re thinking about politics, and the future.” Gemma Malley sees that dystopias not only magnify what teens go through in terms of bullying and the struggle to make their own decisions, but feed “their appetite for adrenaline.
“We had Hermione in Harry Potter and Lyra in His Dark Materials as children.“It’s the only well-written book which talks about how crap we feel about our bodies and faces,” my daughter, then 12, told me earnestly.“I don’t know anyone who isn’t talking about wanting to have plastic surgery.” The futuristic setting (and the sinister consequences of the Uglies’ surgery) made it easier for them to discuss this.Even Anthony Horowitz, the man who has done more to get boys reading than any other contemporary author, has just finished his own dystopian novel, Oblivion, which Walker will publish this autumn.Teenagers on both sides of the Atlantic can’t get enough of this stuff. Are they sunk in existential gloom caused by the recession, university fees and the prospect of never getting a mortgage?
The other new feature of Uglies which also made it attractive to this new female readership was romance between its heroine and two heroes.