One of the most prevalent trends in Young Adult fiction continues to be the dystopian adventure -- a novel that presents some sort of post-apocalyptic view of society, and the efforts of the protagonist(s) to make sense of, and survive in, their new reality. With many of these novels, the setting is our country, the United States of America; however, these novels present an America forever changed from our country's founding ideals. Since next week we celebrate Veteran's Day to honor all those who have fought to uphold these founding ideals, let's look at three Soaring Eagle book award nominees that present a chilling future for our country.
The Selection by Kiera Cass: In this future society, "America" is only the name of the main character. Our country is instead called Ilyria, and has reverted to being ruled by a monarchy. In this novel, something of a cross among The Hunger Games, "Cinderella," and "The Bachelor," the time has come for the prince to marry. Since there are no other royal options for his marriage, the palace will hold a Selection: 35 young women from across the country will move into the palace and compete for the hand of the prince. Marrying the prince becomes the dream of most all eligible teenage girls in Ilyria: not only would the bride achieve title and prominence, but she would become a One. Society in Ilyria is divided into levels, much like castes in some third-world countries: jobs, social position, and, of course, wealth are all determined by the number assigned to your family, and the only way to move up from the level of your birth is through marriage. There is one teenage girl, however, who wants nothing to do with the Selection: America Singer, a talented Five who has been secretly seeing Aspen, a Six, for over a year. When America finally succumbs to her mother's urging and enters her application for the competition, she discovers that everything she thought she knew -- about friendship, about her future plans, about the Prince, and even about Aspen -- has been turned upside down. This is the first title in Cass' trilogy: the following titles are The Elite and The One.
The Darkest Path, by Jeff Hirsch: Six years ago, Callum and his younger brother, James, were kidnapped from their upstate New York home. Since then, they've been living at the headquarters of The Glorious Path -- a militant religious group founded by a former U. S. soldier. The Path has taken over control of several southern and western states, and the United States is now engaged in its second civil war. Cal, now 15 years old, has been trained as a deadly secret agent for The Path, but he is also considered rebellious; in an effort to control him, he is given the duty of cleaning the kennels of the fighting dogs raised by The Path. He befriends one dog, and in an attempt to save him, ends up committing murder. Cal and the dog are now on the run, and they head north - out of Utah, where The Path is headquartered, and into Wyoming. There, Cal meets Natalie, part of a group of teenage rebels who are fighting The Path. They are nearly killed in one battle; will they survive a second? And how will Cal rescue his younger brother, still in the clutches of The Path? Hirsch says on his website (www.jeff-hirsch.com) that he is at work on a companion novel to Darkest Path; at this writing, the title is planned to be a digital-only release, and a date is uncertain.
Insignia by S. J. Kincaid: 14-year-old Tom Raines just wants to "be somebody." Since he and his father live on the fringes of society, he's lived most of his life as a nobody; even his teacher at the virtual school he sometimes attends has called him a loser. Kincaid's novel presents a view of the United States at a time when kids attend school by logging onto the Internet and attending a virtual classroom via their avatar; when gaming happens in virtual spaces that can be publicly viewed, again via the Internet; and when World War III is being fought, not between countries, but between huge multinational corporations who control all society. Tom happens to be an expert gamer; he's had to be, because his gaming scams often provide the only money he and his dad have for food and hotel rooms. During one brilliant match, Tom attracts the attention of one of the country's top military generals. The general is interested in him because World War III is a different war from anything in history: it's being fought in outer space, with unmanned drone-like battleships controlled from earth. The soldiers controlling the battles? Not traditionally-trained soldiers, but gamers -- kids, like Tom, who excel at video-gaming. Tom is recruited, and he enlists willingly -- after all, he views this as his chance to "be somebody." But at what cost? Tom's about to find out. This is also the first of a trilogy, followed by Vortex and Catalyst.
So, teens in Wyoming have nominated three titles that present some disturbing views of the United States of America. Some would say the changes presented in these novels could never happen. Some would say they are imminent. What would you say?