Dystopian vs. Post-Apocalyptic YA Literature

Some consider dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction to be interchangeable. Of course, talented authors can find ways to blend these two genres together, but most of the time there is a clear distinction. Here are two examples of dystopian fiction and two examples of post-apocalyptic fiction:

Dystopia: a society where everything appears to be utopian, but is controlling and oppressive under the facade of perfection

Examples:

The Giver – Lois Lowry

Everything is eerily perfect in this world. Each child’s life is mapped out from birth to death. There is no war. No pain. Not even love. Colors, seasons, and complex feelings have been wiped out. Jonas, 12 years old, becomes heir to the hidden, collective memories of what once was and discovers that the world he grew up in isn’t so perfect after all.

Candor – Pam Bachorz

The city of Candor, tucked away in Florida, is supposedly the perfect place for families to go when they need a break from normal life. In Candor, every citizen is constantly bombarded with “messages,” a form of brainwashing that keeps crime and disorder from happening in the community. Citizens become addicted to these subliminal messages, and when they attempt to leave, go through severe withdrawal symptoms. The teenage main character, Oscar, is the son of the man who founded Candor. Oscar knows how to smuggle people out of the perfect world, and because of his forbidden knowledge, he is forced to face his father by the end of the book.

Post-apocalyptic: the world has ended and survivors are attempting to reconstruct society

Examples:

The Fire-Us Trilogy – Jennifer Armstrong and Nancy Butcher

A virus has wiped out almost all life on planet Earth. All that’s left are seven children who live as a makeshift family and struggle to survive. One day, another kid shows up and leads our heroes on a quest to find the last living adult: the President. One of the hallmarks of the book is the accurate portrayal of children coping with disaster and life without adults.

The Gone series – Michael Grant

On one ordinary day, everyone over the age of 15 disappears, leaving a group of young kids with a ton of questions. It’s “the end of the world as they know it.” Fourteen-year-old Sam and his love interest Astrid lead their group on a journey to figure out why everyone is disappearing and suddenly developing strange powers. (Sam has the ability to shoot green light from his hands.) Eventually Sam’s group is pitted against another group of children, in a fight-to-the-death scenario similar to Golding’s Lord of the Flies. The book is over 500 pages, but a series of intriguing plot twists keep it moving at a fast pace.

Which do you prefer reading about? A world that’s seemingly perfect or a world that’s gone and must be reconstructed?

18 thoughts on “Dystopian vs. Post-Apocalyptic YA Literature

  1. “Dystopia” is so often mis-used, so thanks for insisting on the correct definition.

    It is interesting that the dystopian stories you chose were novels (and, in the case of The Giver, which I’ve read, a short novel), and the Post-apocalyptic ones were series. I think post-apocalyptic stories give you more levels for a longer story.

    I’ve never done dystopian, but what I do is pretty much utopian, and at the end with some strong elements of post-apocalyptic, though the people in the middle of the disaster have no idea how widespread it is, so they don’t know if the world is affected or only their area. That part’s still a WIP.

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      • Well, you have to test them and put them through some hell or you never find out what they’re made of. And some of them surprised even themselves, I would say.

        Funny coincidence that we’re talking about this today, of all days, since I got the idea of sending the story in that direction from 9/11 (which I was pretty much in the middle of) and all the ways in which people helped each other and stayed calm and acted well.

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    • I’ve never read Matched or The Hunger Games, but I’ve heard good things about them, so whenever the library actually gets them in, I’ll read them.

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  2. Thanks, Maggie. Excellent examples.

    I had to laugh at the parallels between your definition of Dystopian societies and Fundamentalist religious beliefs ~ they both sound good on paper . . . but there’s a lot of fear, oppression, and mind control going on behind the scenes. 😉

    Have you ever seen the movie Pleasantville? It’s a dystopian society where everything is PERFECT. But it’s a gray world, lacking in color and vitality.

    Another movie that is a combination of both Dystopia and Post-Apocolyse . . . WALL-E. Very deep for a kid flick. Lots of layers. Like an onion.

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    • I’ve seen bits and pieces of Pleasantville. It might be a good one to watch all the way through… as well as Wall-E, which I am ashamed to admit I have never seen. Thanks, Nancy!

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      • Pleasantville is a very enjoyable movie, with a good story, and a good point. Similar in some ways to The Giver, though the story is very different. Especially funny if you’ve seen a lot of late 1950s/early 1960s TV.

        WALL-E, on the other hand, is a great film, one of the best I’ve seen this decade. Nancy is entirely correct, and I would add that it’s really funny, very serious, and highly romantic.

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    • I’d rather watch on the TV. The couch is more comfortable than my desk chair and my TV screen’s resolution is a lot better than my computer’s. 🙂

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    • You can also stream many Netlix movies to your TV through Wii or a special Netlix modem.

      I’ve never looked into it because 2 movies a week is plenty for me.

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