This week in my YA lit class, we're discussing dystopian fiction--stories like The Hunger Games, Chaos Walking, Uglies which image a world utterly broken and chaotic until the main character shakes up the system, the world view, etc. to discover that there's a better way to live. I suppose there's many reasons to like dystopian fiction--it has the possibility to non-stop action, it's so much worse than the world right now that you're kind of glad when it's over, it has fun times with high-tech gadgets and imagines things like iPads as passe and quaint (le sigh). But I'd like to suggest an alternative reason to read dystopian fiction.
I'm also reading Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. It's based on the National Study of Youth and Religion which conducted several thousand surveys to find out what teens think about religion and Christianity in particular. The findings were that Christianity is okay and even viewed pleasantly, but it doesn't matter much. So this book is all about how youth leaders and other concerned adults (that's me) could work to change that impression. One of the concepts discussed is how faith develops through events of detachment--unfamiliar and unsettling settings help create an environment where change and learning can occur.
So meshing the two ideas, I posit that dystopian fiction creates that unfamiliar and unsettling situation that has some familiar elements to secure the reader, but otherwise it creates this concept of detachment virtually, by getting the reader involved in the story, so that they can learn about concepts such as the horrors of pursuing beauty at the expense of thinking (Uglies) or how we are entertaining ourselves to death (Hunger Games). By showing these extremes and making the reader uncomfortable in that environment, we can then pull back and talk about our own addictions to the pursuit of endless physical youth and relentless entertainment.
I'm not certain enough to share these thoughts with my class just yet, but I think there's something to the idea. Or maybe I'm just looking for more excuses to indulge in my favorite genre...