Monday, August 11, 2014

Hit List: The Sisterhood of the YA Dystopian Trilogy

"You wait, little girl, on an empty stage,
For Fate to turn the light on;
Your life, little girl, is an empty page,
that men will want to write on..."
-"Sixteen Going On Seventeen," from Rodgers & Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music"

What is it about the ages of 16 or 17 in a girl's life that makes it so enchanting for a writer to pick? Is it a coming-of-age thing?
I realize the hype is currently not a big issue, with "Hunger Games" coming to a close, and another year or so to wait for the next installment of "Divergent," but I couldn't help noticing the trend over the last couple years of thrusting 16/17-year-old girls into dire dystopian circumstances and bringing them through romance, through violence, and through various forms of competitive elimination of other girls and teenagers around her to some sort of dramatic end--all in the context of a trilogy. What are the odds that such a topic would be so popular among budding authors? How well did they do, in regards to creating a story and developing their characters?

Ready, ladies?

America, Cassia, Katniss, and Tris

Cassia Reyes

Series-Matched (Matched, Crossed, Reached)

Author-Ally Condie
Home-Oria Province of future-dystopia North America

How would you describe yourself? I'm kind of a plain character, all things considered. I'm not inclined to change my ways very easily; in fact, when my world starts changing around me I find myself getting confused really quickly, and slow to realize the truth of what's really going on. I do have a propensity to notice tiny details, which makes me a good "sorter", which is pretty much the only job that hasn't been completely turned over to the Society-run computer system that basically runs everything else in everyone's lives. It takes a special, particular kind of person to be able to "sort" people for future matches and for employment purposes, and I'm it. I also tend to be kind of shallow, because the minute someone suggests a certain quality in me--liking a certain guy, being creative, things like that--I immediately believe it is true, which leads to some very intense feelings over whether I have chosen the right one or not. I am also suggestible, so that if, say, the Society says that the way they run things is the best for everybody, and that the pills they make us take or save at various intervals are good and beneficial, I am complicit in whatever I am instructed to do... even if it ends up betraying my friends. It would totally be on accident if that ever happened--but I'm so focused on the little details of my own feelings that I completely miss the bigger picture of what's happening around me.
What is your government like? The Society runs all, there is a limited number of media (one Hundred of history's best Songs, Poems, Stories, Fashions, and Paintings; anything more is just frivolous, and creative expression is so dangerous that it is discouraged as well), and teenagers are "sorted" into jobs and "matched" according to Society parameters. The Society is what keeps us alive. The Society improves our lives, keeps us going till the age of eighty, at which time the old ones are peacefully retired, before their bodies turn on themselves, according to Society-measured statistics.
Who do you love? Ky Markham and Xander Carrow. Xander has been my lifelong friend and everyone was sure we would be Matched, but then the machine fritzed out and matched me with Ky, a boy I barely even knew--before going back to Xander again. Turns out Ky wasn't "supposed" to be in the system at all, because he and his family were Aberrations. (Furthermore, turns out his account was planted as a test by the government to see what I would do with it!) I was so confused. Was it fate? Till that point the Society had never failed me. My grandfather was a dissenter, and my mother seemed to be working on some project or another that she didn't want to talk about, but I am okay just going where and doing what I am told. Whenever I am with Ky, I can't stop thinking about my "real" match, Xander. But my outings with Xander are prescribed and monitored, whereas time with Ky is stolen moments and secrets shared. It's so much more enchanting that way—I think about Ky all the time I am with Xander. I do not know who I am meant to be with. I cannot decide; there is nothing to tell me what to do.
What is your goal? I want to make my own choices. I want to be free to create my own things, not have my life all planned out and decided for me by somebody else. The Society is wrong, and we need to fight it.

America Singer

Series-The Selection (The Selection, The Elite, The One)

Author-Kiera Cass
Home-Carolina "province" of future-dystopia North America

How would you describe yourself? Oh, I'm notoriously rebellious and very stubborn--which is okay, because as the heroine of my story I'm usually right. I'm also ambitious, rather talented (in music, anyway). I like to think of myself as a tomboy, and at first I hated those fancy-frilly dresses they made for us Elites when we were going through the competition to be chosen as the Prince's bride, but I came to realize that if that's what it took to win, I would be okay with it.
What is your government like? The government of Illea (what used to be America) is now a monarchical system of numbered castes, with One being the Royal caste and Eight being the lowest caste.
Who do you love? There are two guys in my life: Aspen Leger I met when my older brother moved out of the house. We started dating when I was fifteen, but then the next year, I was Selected to be one of the potentials for Prince Maxon's bride. I didn't want to go, but my mom bribed me with money. In a way I was forced into accepting, but that was okay because I ended up sort of falling for Prince Maxon, after all. He certainly seemed to like me better than the other girls, even though I always told myself I was plain-looking (as most girls my age would do). Imagine my horror when Aspen actually shows up at the palace and tells me how much he's thought of me over the years! Of course, I still had a soft spot in my heart for him--so should I stay with the guy I've known all my life? The more I thought about it, the more staying with Maxon and winning the competition and becoming queen seemed like the right thing to do. I would sneak meetings with Aspen whenever I could, but I was still a big part of the competition, so our secret would have to remain that way. It was really hard when Maxon didn't trust me and Aspen did--why couldn't one of these guys just make the choice for me? I wanted so badly for Aspen to come out with something amazing that would make me want to throw the whole competition and run away with him, but he never did. In the end, the potential for power and influence I had with Maxon was a bigger draw, because as much as I was close to Aspen (close enough to be sleeping with him when Maxon wasn't around) I always knew we didn't have much of a future together.
What is your goal? To win the competition, to be the One, the Queen of Illea. It's pretty much the only thing that matters in my life, the only thing that could possibly ensure that I will be happy for the rest of my life.
*Note: Out of the four, this is the only trilogy I never actually finished... because I found the main character so horrible in the first book, so all this "interview" is based purely on my impression from the first book and information I found for the rest of the series on the Wiki. If you've read the books and disagree with how I've portrayed her, let me know!

Katniss Everdeen

Series-Hunger Games (Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay)

Author-Suzanne Collins
Home-District 12 of future-dystopia America, society centered around the Colorado Rocky Mountains

How would you describe yourself? I'm very much a free spirit; I am the "man" of the family, taking care of my mom and little sister and going out hunting with my friend Gale. I tend to be reckless, acting first and thinking (and regretting) later. I am strong and tough, but start messing with my head and my emotions and I turn into a berserk wreck. I am inherently stubborn and rebellious, which makes me the ideal person to lead the uprising and bring the fight that everyone has been planning and circulating and whispering about all the way to the Capitol steps.
What is your government like? Eleven Districts contribute something to Capitol. We have a rigid governing system that requires sixteen and older to fight to the death each year, as a "memorial" to how "benevolent" the government is for "protecting" us. There is very little representation, and the way I see it, the districts exist to keep the Capitol-Dwellers alive, while the Capitol sees fit to decimate the Districts in order to maintain control.
Who do you love? Peeta Mellark and Gale Hawthorne. Gale was the only guy for me before I left. I could totally see us making a family together. Then Peeta was chosen alongside me, and all the media paired us up, being from the same District. Of course Effie and Haymitch forced us to go along with it, as a way of beating the system. For the longest time, I couldn't stand Peeta—then he kind of grew on me. It got easier to pretend we were close and go through the motions of a courtship and engagement together. There is something about fighting for each other that bonds you. Of course, this made Gale all sore because we really had something going before Peeta happened, but if I dare act like Peeta doesn't matter, the Capitol will know and they will kill him and it will be my fault. So I do, I really love both boys equally now, and deciding between them is definitely harder than fighting a whole army of orange monkeys.
What is your goal? I want to take down the Capitol. One district should not have that much power over all the other eleven. I will rebel against the established authority and try to beat the system wherever and however I can. They can't own me. I am my own master.

Beatrice Prior

Series-Divergent (Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant)

Author-Veronica Roth
Home-Abnegation Faction of future-dystopia Chicago

How would you describe yourself? As a child of Abnegation I am naturally insecure, but at the same time I have a natural drive and strong moral sense, which prevents me from totally abstaining and melting into the background when injustice happens, as the rest of my faction does. I am a little bit more stubborn than I ought to be, I am very much loyal to my friends, I am small but tough and strong. I am a little bit of every personality from each faction: honest, brave, kind, intelligent, and selfless.
What is your government like? We divided into five factions as a solution to the Purity War. Those who blamed the war on a certain trait joined the faction that advocated the eradication of that trait. Abnegation, the selfless faction, were chosen as leaders, but Erudite wants to change that, because they believe Abnegation are breaking "the rules" too much and should not have so much control.
Who do you love? Tobias Eaton. I met Tobias on my first day in Dauntless, and he's been my closest friend ever since. We have a lot in common, with the Divergent condition and the fact that our families were Abnegation—there really hasn't been another guy to come close to that. We have had our disagreements, but we work through them and stick by each other. If it came down to it, Tobias is the guy who would give his life for me, and I think I feel the same way about him.
What is your goal? I want to find out more about the Divergence, because I want to understand what and who I am. It's only natural, given that the society I live in is totally fixated and centered on one's natural personality. What is so important about the ones that don't fit just one category? Why are we such a threat? Why are the Erudite trying so hard to grab control? Growing up in Abnegation has allowed me to see multiple sides of a conflict, like a Divergent sees through an illusion. I can see how people can work together, and how this system can succeed, but the minute someone tries to have all the control, it is only chaos. Divergents are not the problem; what if they are the solution?

Additional Observations:
All four characters battle insecurity in different ways: Cassia, I noticed, dealt with her insecurity by sticking with those things that would not make her feel uncomfortable; she was constantly questioning herself and others, but she would always end up wrestling until one or the other variable was removed, making the choice obvious. America dealt with her insecurity by becoming belligerent and manipulative; it also helped to have an author to "groom" her circumstances so she always came out on top without ever having to actually deal with her flaws. Katniss was largely insecure but she dealt with it by clinging to her independence and setting herself up as self-sufficient--something the government had been steadily undermining in its citizens. And Tris was naturally insecure as an Abnegate, but she had the tenacious focus of a Dauntless as well, so by this she overcame the more debilitating levels of insecurity and used it to fuel her effectiveness.

The other singular characteristic of each of these dystopias is their views on government and the society they grow up in. America Singer's government is a monarchy, so all of the power goes to the Royalty, and the rest of the world can just bicker amongst themselves. She is no different as a Three than she was as a Five, so the whole point, if she wants to make any kind of difference, then, is to become The One. Cassia's Society is a nebulous, elite oligarchy that decides how long its citizens live, and which of it's citizens get to retain their citizenship. Condie has her own breed of "divergent", which is to say, the kinds of people that don't abide by the Society's stringent rules or adhere to the dictates--even something as small as owning a "banned" item from before the Society picked the Hundred whatevers that would be allowed. She then borrows from Hunger Games in that, if you still do not comply, you become Outcast from the Society, forced to scrounge a living in the barren world beyond the Society's jurisdiction. Katniss' society is definitely oppressed by an inordinately cruel and exacting government that brooks so little dissent that at least 23 kids every year are "executed" in the Games merely as a deterrent--to say nothing of the number of executions carried out on dissenters when the Games aren't going on. It might have begun as the fearful people depended more and more on the government to assuage their fears and make decisions for their security, but the government has basically swallowed its people and now they are paying for it. 
Tris' society is about the only one--from what I can tell--that is still actively citizen-based (by the citizen, for the citizen). The Abnegation are in charge, but they are not elite from the other factions. All five factions still have a say in the government--the conflict comes when some of those in Erudite decide that they should be the ones with all the say, that the way Abnegation is running things--even though it doesn't seem to affect the balance of society much at all--is "wrong" and "they must be stopped." But on the whole, the concept isn't really as ineffective as the other three: the "most elite" Faction is also the least prideful, dividing according to natural personality traits allows the citizens to function in capacities more suited to their strengths--Dauntless are security forces and soldiers, Erudite are the scientists and historians, Candor deal with jurisprudence, Amity farm the land and are the ones to provide the food for everyone else, and Abnegation make sure that everything runs smoothly and people are cooperating and no one is overlooked or forgotten.

A final observation is to note who wins in the end: America wins, Cassia wins, Katniss.... sort of comes out okay, and Tris--well, I won't spoil it, but I think she comes out as the most noble of all of them. The way each girl is treated by her author is very telling: America is pampered, Cassia is dragged and thrown all over creation, Katniss is thrust into war zone after war zone, both on the killing fields and in the tabloids... and Tris is patiently honed and refined and sharpened into the strong young woman she was always meant to be, in a natural progression of events. Through it all, America is "Me Vs. The Others", Cassia is "Me vs. What Others Want Me To Be", Katniss is "Me Vs. The Overreaching, All-Powerful Government", and Tris is "Me-and-My-Friends Vs. People Who Have Made Selfish And Misguided Choices." 

How about you? Do you agree with the portrayals here? What other observations have you made about these series, or other YA dystopian Trilogies? Weigh in on the comments!