I just finished reading an essay in the New York Times magazine calling out modern young adult dystopian novels for being money-seeking, weak pieces of literature that do not stack up to the great stories of the ages, mostly because the writers are mostly young in age. A decent amount of the essay focused on the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, which was written when she was 21.
Now I haven’t read a lot of dystopian literature but I do enjoy the genre and have found some great ones like The Giver, Fahrenheit 451 and The Hunger Games. I also did read Divergent, the first book of the series, and I have to say I was pretty disappointed as well. I had read The Hunger Games previously so I’m sure that was on my mind, but still, there is so much room for original creative stories in the dystopian genre, that it was very weird how similar the books were. On top of that, I found The Hunger Games had a much more appealing protagonist and a much more convincing world.
I was curious about Divergent’s futuristic Chicago with its different communities based on different characteristics, but the book left too many unanswered questions for me and forced me to suspend my belief more than necessary to get to the end. I had no desire to continue the rest of the series even though I was told to give it a shot. Apparently Roth got a lot of criticism over how she ended the series **INCOMING SPOILER ALERT**
by killing off her main character, but actually I like authors who have the guts to do that because you really feel like as the reader that nothing is safe, everything is unexpected, and the story is not about a perfect little world. I respect her for having the courage to do that but I still wasn’t satisfied by her writing.
I think it’s fair to say that the Divergent books shouldn’t be as popular as they are, but I don’t think it’s fair to argue it’s because the author is young and therefore was marketed simply for popularity. The essay states,
Children’s literature toys with our chronological expectations because the best of it has always been written, actually, by the comparatively elderly. Lewis himself was 51 when the “Narnia” books came out; Lois Lowry was 56 when “The Giver” was published; Madeleine L’Engle wrote “A Wrinkle in Time” in her 40s, and L. Frank Baum his “Oz” books in the same decade of his life.
Most of my favorite books are written by older authors, but I think it’s problematic to suggest that younger authors are incapable of writing quality children’s or YA stories. I definitely think experience makes you a better writer. I’m a testament to that. My earlier pieces and what I thought was good writing were honestly crap. I’ve learned a lot by reading, writing and just living more, making my characters and ideas more realistic and complex. It’s also nice to know that not getting published by 20 does not mean I have lost all hope of amounting to anything.
But honestly there are plenty of older novelists publishing crappy derivatives of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and all the paranormal fantasy sci-fi epic stories filling bookshelves because they (and their editors) think they have something special. Wisdom comes with age, but talent doesn’t come to everyone. It’s all trial and error and a bit of luck to publish the next piece of literature to resonate with the masses. Calling out young readers or writers for being stupid is just wrong and rather pretentious.
I am glad no one squashed my desire to write as a child because now as a 20-something, it happens to me all the time from the outside and from myself. I started this blog as a project in one of my college classes because I was passionate about supporting young writers like myself and find resources and opportunities that catered to our needs to get published and improve our craft. It’s going to be a long time until any of my books get published but that’s okay. I’m enjoying the ride until then and soaking up all the great stories already out there by veteran writers who were once in my place. I guess one day I’ll have to change the name of this blog to Old and Writerly, heh.