Best of 2014: Five Slightly More Plausible Dystopias We’d Love to See in YA Novels
I love a good dystopian novel as much as the next member of the target 18-25 year old female who reads upwards of 50 books per year demographic, but I’m also a skeptic. Frankly, it takes me a Golden-Gate-sized suspension of disbelief to buy some of these “kill all the kids” and “let’s all wear tunics” scenarios.
Yes, the government’s probably evil, but they’re also not that organized (I mean, just look at how long it takes them to crank out census data every decade. Do you really think they’re going to force everyone to Sorting-Hat themselves into Factions? Think of the paperwork!)
With that in mind, I’ve come up with some realistic, low-stakes dystopian situations for the near future. The next hit series could be here! But probably not!
IN A WORLD where the postal service raises the price of stamps every two weeks, one girl must discover how inconvenient it is to send things snail-mail.
I ball up my fists.
“Putting two forty-two cent stamps on a single letter is such a waste! I wish the post office would make ones that last—”
“Don’t say it,” the mysterious new boy in school warns huskily.
“—forever,” I whisper.
IN A WORLD where the government regulates the temperature of microwaveable food so that no one burns their mouth on frozen burritos, one girl must fight for her family’s right to consume something other than lukewarm convenience foods.
“I don’t want my food to be safe, or still kind of icy in the middle,” I cried. “I want it to be burning hot and freezing cold. I want to singe the taste buds off my tongue and give myself incapacitating ice cream headaches whenever I eat a freeze pop.”
“You want to taste things the way they really are,” said the mysterious new boy in school.
“I want to live.”
The Name Games
IN A WORLD where no two people may be named the same thing, mostly for convenience’s sake, and to make it easier to take attendance in schools, Alex (boy) and Alex (girl) are about to discover what it means to share.
“But…you can’t be—”
It’s strange to hear my own name from someone else. I mean, it’s not strange to hear it from someone else, because obviously people call me by my name; I guess it’s more strange to hear the mysterious new boy in school say it about himself, because I thought I was the only Alex in the entire—
“Sorry. I…guess I spaced out into an interior monologue.”
Get ahold of yourself, Alex. By which I mean me.
IN A WORLD where the entire United States has converted to a single time zone, one California girl thinks it’s really unfair that they picked EST instead of PST.
It’s seven AM. It’s seven AM everywhere.
“Those jerks,” I say through gritted teeth. Outside, it’s still dark and cold, or at least as cold as it ever gets in California, which is not very cold. “Those sun-loving least coasters in Washington have ruined everything.”
“I mean, it could be worse,” says the mysterious new boy in school. “We could live in Alaska. Or Hawaii. Their stuff is totally effed up.”
IN A WORLD where every graduating high school student must pass a rigorous test to enter post-secondary education, one girl refuses to let Scantron machines determine her fate.
I press so hard with my pencil that the number-2 lead snaps.
“I agree with you,” says the mysterious new boy in school.
I didn’t even say anything out loud. Even when I don’t speak, the pencil speaks for me. It’s always going to be like this.
“How did this happen?” I hear myself say. “The test was to level the playing field. And now everyone’s got—”
“Tutors,” he finishes for me. “And flash cards. And prep classes and practice tests.”
“It was supposed to be about aptitude.” A single tear rolls down my cheek, and I snap the pencil in half.
“You’ve got aptitude.” He takes the pencil out of my hand and throws it away. He’s so mysterious. I think his name is Alex. I wonder if my aptitude is for making out with him.
BLAIR THORNBURGH is a graduate of the University of Chicago, where she earned a B.A. in medieval studies and delivered a pretty good commencement speech. She lives in Philadelphia.