The Young Adult Apocalypse


The world is coming to an end. At least, that’s certainly what it feels like. In the world of fiction, apocalyptic stories have captured the attention of the young adults browsing the shelves. Whether that be Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games,” Rick Yancey’s “The 5th Wave” or Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” series, these novels have flown off the shelves and have become immortalized on the silver screen. But the question that comes to mind is why these books have become so popularized by their readers and the media.

One answer that comes to mind involves the stories that flood the news and internet every day. The Pulse nightclub shooting was a hate crime that claimed 49 lives in a matter of minutes. Outrage against police officers wrongfully killing innocent victims mounts on what feels like a daily basis. The environment is being destroyed faster than it can be renewed, and these problems are only a few of the many that plague the United States. Millennials are swamped with images of a world where the future may not be as hopeful as once imagined, so naturally literature that holds these concepts is appealing in some way.

But these are not new ideas. Stories of the apocalypse have been around for decades. George Orwell’s “1984” was published in 1949 and predicted a world where the government monitored your every step. Walter M. Miller Jr.’s “A Canticle for Leibowitz” was published in 1959 and portrayed a world destroyed by a nuclear holocaust. Even Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” told of the government attempting to control a woman’s mind and body, and this was in 1985. Each generation has their own version of the apocalypse, and each generation has an apocalyptic novel which reflects their fear.

Perhaps the fear of this age is one the previous generations cling to in a rapidly changing world. Looking at the novels that have become iconic in the 21st century, there’s an increased notion of “Us vs. Them.” “The 5th Wave” has aliens that attempt to wipe out humanity. “The Hunger Games” has the wealthy rulers of The Capitol against the rest of the poorer Districts. Even “I Am Legend” is about one man versus a horde of vampire monsters. And why do these stories incite fear? What do these novels have to do with the ideas of the previous generations?

Because the days of white privilege are coming to an end. The top one percent is being questioned by the other ninety-nine percent, and more demands of equality have taken root in American society. The novels that fill the hands of young adults speak of rising up against the government, or the oppressors, or the ones who hold all the wealth. In many cases, the villains of these post-apocalyptic worlds are all three. This, of course, doesn’t bode well for the ones who have held all the power for the past few centuries.

The world is changing, and for some that translates to an apocalypse. Young people are finding their voices with demands for change in how the system works, a system which the previous generations rely on to keep their way of life kosher. This upcoming election is a prime example of that tension between the older generations and the new. The 2016 election is reason enough for young adult readers to turn to post-apocalyptic novels, and the outcome of the nation is in the balance based on who is running.

Who knows, in twenty years this craze may be looked at with the same disdain as the nuclear holocaust novels of the 1950s and 60s. Perhaps the millennials will project their fears onto the newest generation. Or, with some luck, these stories of the world as we know it ending will simply be fictitious pieces of fantasy to entertain and distract. Whatever the case may be, books have always had a way of connecting the real world and the world of imagination. Let’s hope this new age isn’t as dark as some of the worlds that line the shelves of bookstores.


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