Thursday, January 6, 2011

Forbidden love & dystopians

One of the wisest teachers in my school recently commented that maybe we shouldn't be so hard on the lovebirds who sneak kisses and cuddles at school. For those too young to drive, she said, this might be their only chance for a little affection. 

That conversation came on the heels of a recent and upcoming spate of dystopian novels concerned with the regulation of affection, as well as the New York Times panel reflections (and kidlitosphere blow-back) over the attraction of this genre for young people. So I have been thinking a lot about how teens connect in dystopias (including school). 

Probably the most on-point novel I've read recently was Delirium by Lauren Oliver, situated in a future Maine where love has been excised by medical intervention. That is made effective by a proscribed surgery to remove emotion, once the citizen reaches adulthood. Lena, the heroine, has some family skeletons related to the sickness, and over the course of the book, her attitude on the procedure which will mute her life so that will no longer want to run or sing shifts. As she considers the disorder and its victims in a new light, she must make a choice to leave society or remain in the cordon sanitaire provided when feelings challenges public health and safety.

The society in Matched by Ally Condie attempts to direct passion instead of contain it, using data to determine optimal combinations and matching young people for later marriage so that courtships are directed in the most efficient and societally beneficial ways. The novel opens with Cassia's matching ceremony and follows her through a series of events as she begins to challenge authority, including the official processes of sorting and matching which demonstrate the limitations of a rigidly ordered community. The end-of-life questions raised are powerful, and all the characters well-drawn. 

Pam Bachorz, whose first novel, Candor, was just terrific, follows up her debut with Drought, concerned with Utopian history of upstate New York and as geographically-informed as Candor, both throwing into relief the idealistic ambitions and insular natures of particular communities. Ruby is a two-hundred-year-old adolescent whose blood has the ability to heal and imbue others with longevity, so there are more unexplicated aspects than in Delirium or Matched. Ruby and her community are enslaved as water harvesters, using pewter spoons to gather the liquid believed to possess miraculous attributes. Parallels with the Christian tradition are emphasized and might be problematic for some readers, but Ruby's brushes with the modern world, and one of the guards assigned to oversee her sect, are fascinating, Bachorz writes with vigor.

Oliver and Condie's books feature interesting commentary about the future of work. Higher education does not seem to figure in there visions of the future, and Condie's descriptions of the destruction of the library, the 100 official poems, and the underground preservation of literature are particularly chilling suggestions. 

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