Dystopia Tuesday: The Girl Who Owned A City by O. T. Nelson

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At a recent talk, I cited The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993) as the first YA dystopian book, but at the time I hadn’t read The Girl Who Owned a OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACity by O. T. Nelson. First published in 1975, it has been in the curricula in elementary and middle schools for years, and many adults of my generation cite this book as their first taste of the dystopian genre.

A book about post-apocalyptic Chicago might first bring to mind the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, but The Girl Who Owned a City might best be compared thematically to Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I don’t say this lightly–Atlas Shrugged is one of the heavy hitters of the genre, but consider the situation in this children’s book:

A great plague has swept the country, killing everyone over the age of twelve. Without public utilities, services or adult supervision, children band together in family groups for protection, and must forage and steal in order to get the food and supplies they need to survive.

Though it doesn’t fit my stated definition of a dystopia as a twisted version of perfection, it’s an excellent example of post-apocalyptic science fiction. Lisa, the ten year-old protagonist, makes some interesting observations about human nature as she struggles to survive and defend her home and the other children in her suburban Chicago neighborhood against marauding pre-pubescent gangs. In doing so, she becomes aware of her desire for liberty in a way that makes this a very timeless, and timely, read.

In one scene, Lisa discusses a group of children who’ve been adopted by her friend Jill. The children whine and bicker over their few communal toys, and Jill is constantly admonishing them to share. Lisa thinks the children will be happier if they are given jobs, and the opportunity to earn new toys that will belong to them, and only them. Out of earshot of the children, Lisa says, “I’ve been watching your children for days, Jill. Just watching and thinking about them. They do too much sharing and it isn’t working at all. They have nothing of their own—no real duties, no real way of helping. It’s nice to share things if you want to, but it’s stupid to force people to share or be nice. These are things people have to do on their own. Otherwise it’s no good.”

Jill argued that the children are frightened. They’ve lost their parents and their sense of the world. They need coddling, not jobs.

Lisa replied, “I don’t think they’ll ever be happy if you do everything for them. They need to work and be proud of themselves. They need to be able to say to themselves, “I worked hard and did a good job and earned my toy.”

The narrative goes on to say, ‘Lisa wanted to say something about how she had lost her own fear by solving problems and staying busy. It seemed to her that fear was what you felt when you waited for something bad to happen, and fun was what you had when you figured out a way to make something good happen.’

Despite Lisa’s attempts to create a neighborhood militia to protect the children on her street from the Chidester gang, and her idea to learn to drive a car so she could go to a grocery warehouse for food and other supplies, the gangs stage multiple attacks. She despairs until she notices a school building which has a wall around it, like a fortress. She decides to move everyone from her neighborhood into Glenbard and make it into a walled city. Everyone is enthusiastic about the plan, but after they move in and organize the school according to Lisa’s vision, some of the children begin to grumble that she calls Glenbard her city. Lisa’s response is a response worthy of a young Ayn Rand protagonist:

“Lisa, why do you keep calling it your city—saying it’s your property?”

“Because it is! I thought I told everyone that on the very first day.”

“But we’ve all helped build it, haven’t we?” argued Jill. “The kids are starting to call you selfish. They don’t like it when you call it yours.”

“Selfish? I guess I am. But there’s more to it than that. Don’t forget, it was my discovery. The place was sitting here empty…I found it. I planned it, filled it with my supplies, now I run it.

“I know you like to share things, but it just doesn’t work the way you’d like it to. In the first place, nothing would ever get done. With no one in charge and no one to make decisions, the group would argue all the time about whose property should be shared. And then …they’d be too busy to accomplish anything.

“I do own this place. I didn’t force anyone to come here…Call me selfish if you like, but I don’t want to own anybody. I don’t want anyone to own me…Freedom is more important than sharing, Jill. This is my city. I plan to run it well and build it into something good. But I have to do it the way I think is best.”

Lisa decides the best way to run her city is to offer something better to her citizens than they can find anywhere else.

  ***

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published at www.counteractbook.com and is used with the permission of the author.
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TRACY LAWSON has wanted to be a writer ever since she learned to read. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Communication from Ohio University, and though she embarked on a career in the performing arts as a dance instructor and choreographer, never lost her desire to write, and thus far has to her credit a coming-of-age dystopian thriller and an historical nonfiction. Her interest in writing for teens is sparked by all the wonderful young people in her life, including her daughter, Keri, a college sophomore.

Tracy is also the author of Counteract.

Counteract: Book 1 of the Resistance Series (2014) is the story of a guy, a girl, the terrorist attack that brings them together, and their race to expose a conspiracy that could destroy their country from within. What Tommy and Careen learn about the true nature of the terrorist threat spurs them to take action, and their decisions lead them to run afoul of local law enforcement, team up with an underground resistance group, and ultimately take their quest for the truth to the highest reaches of the United States government. The second book in the series is slated for release in 2015.

For more about the book, check out Tracy’s website for a synopsis.

There’s even a book trailer!

Dystopia Tuesday: That Could Never Happen – A Look at The Lottery by Shirley Jackson and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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When “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson first appeared in The New Yorker in June 1948, people averted their eyes. Many canceled their subscription to the magazine. Jackson received hate mail. People wrote to ask if the short story were fiction—and if not, where did these outlandish rituals take place, anyway?

The New Yorker’s boilerplate response to questions about The Lottery read: “Miss Jackson’s story can be interpreted in half a dozen ways. It’s just a fable…She has chosen a nameless little village to show, in microcosm, how the forces of belligerence, persecution, and vindictiveness are, in mankind, endless and traditional and that their targets are chosen without reason.”

Dystopian fiction seeks to examine what people will accept as the status quo, and what it takes before The Lotteryindividuals will rebel.

At the outset of “The Lottery”, the purpose of the annual lottery in the small farming community is unclear. The children are seen piling up stones, and the elders carefully allot one slip of paper for each head of household in the community. Some grouse about the “fools” in other communities who are talking about giving up the lottery.

Tessie Hutchinson, a housewife, goes along with the status quo—until after her husband draws the slip of paper with the black mark. Then she begins to protest, saying it wasn’t fair—he didn’t have a chance to choose properly. Her reaction causes the reader realize that winning this lottery has dire consequence.

The entire Hutchinson family is made to draw slips of paper, and, though their mother continues to protest, the three children go along with the proceedings willingly. They proudly display their blank slips of paper. Their mother has drawn the black spot this time. And the townspeople react thusly:

“All right, folks.” Mr. Summers said. “Let’s finish quickly.”

Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones. The pile of stones the boys had made earlier was ready; there were stones on the ground with the blowing scraps of paper that had come out of the box. Mrs. Delacroix selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands and turned to Mrs. Dunbar. “Come on,” she said. “Hurry up.”

Mrs. Dunbar had small stones in both hands, and she said, gasping for breath. “I can’t run at all. You’ll have to go ahead and I’ll catch up with you.”

The children had stones already. And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles.

Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. “It isn’t fair,” she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head. Old Man Warner was saying, “Come on, come on, everyone.” Steve Adams was in the front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs. Graves beside him.

“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.

I read The Lottery in sixth-grade English class. The teacher also showed us the short film (made in 1969) and even though some thirty-five years have passed, when I watched it on YouTube prior to writing this post, the images were fresh and familiar, still seared on my brain.

How could something like that happen, even in a story? At the time, I felt certain there was no way—no way—that the adults in my world could ever let something like that happen.

I was too young to be cognizant of the atrocities of genocide or war. This simple community ritual, as depicted in “The Lottery”, paled by comparison to the horrors of the real world.

So why did people avert their eyes? Because the truth hurts. If everyone were jumping off a bridge, would you jump, too? Shirley Jackson’s story asserts that we would.

As every parent of teenagers knows, the degree of stupid recklessness that takes place is directly correlated to the number of teens involved. (I’m right—you know I am.)

“The Lottery” could have been a blueprint for The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, which the American Library Association reports was one of the most challenged books of 2013, mostly for religious reasons and because the book was unsuited to a particular age group.

Surely the horror and violence in The Hunger Games outstrips the horror in “The Lottery”. Collins herself acknowledged her dystopian stories were not for everyone, telling The Associated Press at the time that she had heard “people were concerned about the level of violence in the books. That’s not unreasonable. They are violent. It’s a war trilogy.”

speak the truth quoteThe idea of teens being forced into killing one another on reality television seems outrageous. That could never happen. Right?

Both stories follow a common theme in dystopian fiction: human nature can be threatened by external forces until man becomes violent and inhuman.

That message should never be banned.

 

  ***

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published at www.counteractbook.com and is used with the permission of the author.
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TRACY LAWSON has wanted to be a writer ever since she learned to read. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Communication from Ohio University, and though she embarked on a career in the performing arts as a dance instructor and choreographer, never lost her desire to write, and thus far has to her credit a coming-of-age dystopian thriller and an historical nonfiction. Her interest in writing for teens is sparked by all the wonderful young people in her life, including her daughter, Keri, a college sophomore.

Tracy is also the author of Counteract.

Counteract: Book 1 of the Resistance Series (2014) is the story of a guy, a girl, the terrorist attack that brings them together, and their race to expose a conspiracy that could destroy their country from within. What Tommy and Careen learn about the true nature of the terrorist threat spurs them to take action, and their decisions lead them to run afoul of local law enforcement, team up with an underground resistance group, and ultimately take their quest for the truth to the highest reaches of the United States government. The second book in the series is slated for release in 2015.

For more about the book, check out Tracy’s website for a synopsis.

There’s even a book trailer!

Dystopia Tuesday: Procreation and Power – Comparison of Bumped by Megan McCafferty and The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood

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“The United States of America once ranked above all industrialized nations in the realm of teen pregnancy. We were the undisputed queens of precocious procreation! We were number one before, and we can be number one again!” –President’s State of the Union Address, Bumped

What’s to be done when a country faces an infertility crisis? Women of childbearing age become the most precious commodity, the most sought-after natural resource. Will they be celebrated and pampered—or subjugated—to spur the creation of the children essential to the society’s survival?

That’s the question in both Bumped by Megan McCafferty and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. The societies depicted in these novels both formulate plans to replenish their populations through surrogate mothers, and their governments launch propaganda campaigns that sanction and even glorify using women as breeders. Bumped

Though teen sex is glorified in pop culture and slang in the young adult novel Bumped, the actual details of bumping are kept appropriately veiled, while in the dystopian horror story The Handmaid’s Tale the rituals of mating with a surrogate are relayed in stark detail.

Religion and its influence on people’s attitudes toward procreation is central to both stories. In Bumped, the Goodside religious community seeks its own solution to the country’s infertility issues, and in The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic government blames the lack of healthy children on a permissive, promiscuous society, and aims to correct the problem by properly subjugating women.

In Bumped, 75% of the teenagers in Melody Mayflower’s high school class are infected with HPSV, the Human Progressive Sterility Virus, and will go irreversibly sterile sometime between their eighteenth and twentieth birthdays. These stats are the norm nationwide, and the teens in Bumped are bombarded with songs whose lyrics glorify pregnancy. Trendy stores at the mall that sell provocative clothing and “fun bumps,” strap-on bellies that show the girls how sexy they’ll look when pregnant. Even school clubs like the Pro/Am Pregg Alliance put the focus on procreation.

Teens are pushed to have as many children as possible before they reach the age at which they’ll become infertile. They use the drug Tocin, which lessens inhibitions and causes memory loss, to help set the mood and make it less embarrassing to bump with partners they barely know. Later, they’re told, after they become sterile, they can attend college, get married, and adopt children of their own, and build their lives with someone they love. But for now, bumping with lots of partners is a way to keep the human race going until the full effects of the virus are known.

“A free society cannot force girls to have children, but a free market can richly reward those who do.” Ashley and Tyler Mayflower, PhDs, Princeton University

Melody’s parents, both economics professors, adopted her when she was a baby, and they’ve spent her entire life developing her brand and molding her into the perfect Surrogette—beautiful, accomplished, and intelligent. When she was fourteen, Melody’s virginity was brokered to the highest-bidding couple, which was a radical idea at the time, but now pregging for profit is something to which  teen girls aspire. Melody received a six-figure signing bonus, and, In exchange for giving birth to a healthy child, she can count on a new car, liposuction, and college tuition. She’s been paired with Jondoe, the most genetically flawless bumping partner available, and they’re scheduled to do the deed as soon as possible. Melody’s been preparing for this her whole life. So why is she having reservations?

It turns out there’s more than one obstacle blocking the successful execution of her parents’ plans.

The first hitch shows up on Melody’s doorstep, in the form of her long-lost identical twin, Harmony. The girls were separated at birth, and Harmony, the frail, sickly twin, was adopted into a religious sect called Goodside. Now, Harmony’s run away from her community to save her sister from a life of sin. And she’s got a few ideas about saving herself, too.

Though Harmony has been reared to believe that life for a woman is JOY: Jesus first, Others second and Yourself last, she’s not comfortable with all the tenets of her faith-based community, and is especially distressed by the scripture in 1 Corinthians, which dictates that the wife’s body belongs to her husband. Early marriage and procreation are of paramount importance in the theocratic communal society of Goodside. Girls are raised to be mothers, nothing more. Harmony’s not sure how she feels about arranged marriage, and she flees rather than commit to a lifetime with someone she doesn’t love. When Jondoe mistakes Harmony for Melody, she’s more confused than ever.

Melody’s BFF, Zen adds to the problems. He’s sweet and charming and would be the perfect boyfriend, except he’s not “upmarket” enough to be Sperm for a Surrogette like Melody.  Though he’s desperately in love with Mel, is Zen destined to be just an “Everythingbut” for a professional pregger like her?

Neither situation is healthy for these young girls. Melody feels responsibility as the president of her school’s Pro/Am Pregg Alliance to set an example of pregging for profit that influences other girls, for better or for worse, never mind that she’s the oldest virgin in the club. The girls in Otherside may believe it’s easy to stay emotionally detached while having sex, giving birth and then turning their children over for adoption, but Melody learns that’s not always the case.

Harmony rebels against her austere and restrictive upbringing, while Melody rebels against her parents’ plan for her. But at least in Bumped, the girls retain some autonomy. The decision to bump or not to bump is still theirs, despite peer pressure and a growing demand for children to adopt. Many teens will enter the baby market, but they won’t have to pregg at the point of a gun.

Handmaid's TaleNot so for the unfortunate Handmaids.

“Our big mistake was teaching them [women] to read. We won’t do that again.”

The Handmaid system of repopulating the Republic of Gilead (formerly the United States) came about after a decline in healthy births in the late 20th century, which was attributed to many factors, including the rampant use of birth control, abortions, AIDS, syphilis, nuclear accidents, and the uncontrolled use of herbicides and insecticides.

At first, surrogates were hired, but when the number of healthy births continued to decline, the government declared all second marriages and non-marital liaisons adulterous, arrested the women in those relationships, and confiscated and adopted out their children to upper class families. The women were given the option of becoming surrogates. But it was never really an option.

Childless or infertile older women were recruited as Aunts to help run the Handmaid indoctrination programs, and wives who were unable to have children of their own took part in and supported the system that made sex slaves out of other women. After all, a little power is better than no power at all.

“There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.”

Commanders, men highly placed in the regime, chose Handmaids for their households from among the indoctrinated women who had demonstrated reproductive fitness.

“Not every Commander has a Handmaid; some of their Wives have children. From each, says the slogan, according to her ability; to each according to his needs. We recited that, three times, after dessert. It was from the Bible, or so they said. St. Paul again, in Acts.” Take away free access to information and enslave.

The mating ritual was an absolute horror which forced Commander, Wife, and Handmaid to take part in a regimented copulation designed to reduce the Handmaid to nothing more than a vessel held by the Wife to receive her husband’s seed. To say that it warped the sex act for all concerned would be a gross understatement.

Many Commanders of the regime came in contact with a sterility-causing virus developed by scientists, Pre-Gilead, which were intended to be used on the Soviets.  But it was against the law to insinuate that a Commander could be sterile, so Commanders, Wives, and Handmaids went through the horror of the mating ritual, month after month, until the Handmaid either conceived, went insane, or was traded in by the family for a better specimen. Younger men of lower classes were shut out of marriage entirely. But Handmaids often risked their lives to use these men as studs when their Commanders failed to impregnate them. The risk was great, but the reward for producing a healthy child was even greater: it guaranteed that a Handmaid would never be sent to any undesirable location, never be made to shovel up the polluted waste in the Colonies or be a prostitute at Jezebel’s gentleman’s club.

Handmaids were identified by their red full-length robes and veils, and were tattooed on their ankles, a “passport in reverse…supposed to guarantee that they will never be able to fade, finally, into another landscape. I am too important, too scarce, for that. I am a national resource.”

The narrator in The Handmaid’s Tale never gives her real name. Handmaids were stripped of identities other than “Ofglen” or “Ofwarren” which associated them with their Commanders. If they changed households, they changed names. Handmaids were discouraged from forming relationships of any kind with the families they served.

“We lived as usual. Everyone does, most of the time. Whatever is going on is as usual. Even this is as usual, now.”

Both novels demonstrate how far things can spin out of control when people are forced into unnatural behaviors and brainwashed to believe that it’s just business as usual.

  ***

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published at www.counteractbook.com and is used with the permission of the author.
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TRACY LAWSON has wanted to be a writer ever since she learned to read. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Communication from Ohio University, and though she embarked on a career in the performing arts as a dance instructor and choreographer, never lost her desire to write, and thus far has to her credit a coming-of-age dystopian thriller and an historical nonfiction. Her interest in writing for teens is sparked by all the wonderful young people in her life, including her daughter, Keri, a college sophomore.

Tracy is also the author of Counteract.

Counteract: Book 1 of the Resistance Series (2014) is the story of a guy, a girl, the terrorist attack that brings them together, and their race to expose a conspiracy that could destroy their country from within. What Tommy and Careen learn about the true nature of the terrorist threat spurs them to take action, and their decisions lead them to run afoul of local law enforcement, team up with an underground resistance group, and ultimately take their quest for the truth to the highest reaches of the United States government. The second book in the series is slated for release in 2015.

For more about the book, check out Tracy’s website for a synopsis.

There’s even a book trailer!

Dystopia Tuesday: For the Good of the Masses – A Comparison of 1984 by George Orwell and Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

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This was a difficult post to write. It’s been on the to-do list for months while I ruminated. And hedged. And procrastinated.

1984 is one of the big boys in the dystopian genre. I assume that most of you have read it, or are at least familiar with its theme.

1984 by George Orwell (1949) and Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (2008) are inextricably linked by their subject matter. Both serve as warnings. Both have the power to mesmerize and horrify the reader. Both should make us think. But today, I’m asking you to read Little Brother and think long and hard about what it has to say.

1984 is a classic cry against totalitarian government. It’s easy to assume that Orwell was railing against the post-World War II spread of communism, but he was also warning countries like England and the United States against believing that they could save freedom and democracy by continuing an arms race to find a stable “deterrent.” Orwell asserts that freedom cannot continue to exist in a world preparing for nuclear war.1984

In a world punctuated by war, oppression, deprivation, loneliness, paranoia, and despair, Winston reaches out for truth and love. And pays a terrible cost.

Little Brother relays an updated message: freedom cannot exist in a world that has given in to the fear of terrorism. Marcus Yallow (online handle W1n5t0n) is a hacker and a gamer who loves to outsmart surveillance technology. While skipping school one afternoon, he finds himself near the epicenter of a terrorist attack on San Francisco’s rapid transit system. Within minutes of the attack, Marcus and his three friends are taken prisoner by “military looking guys in coveralls.”

“Hey,” I said to the soldiers. “Hey, listen! We’re just high school students. I wanted to flag you down because my friend was bleeding. Someone stabbed him.” I had no idea how much of this was making it through the muffling bag. I kept talking. “Listen—this is some kind of misunderstanding. We’ve got to get my friend to a hospital—“

Someone went upside my head again. It felt like they used a baton or something—it was harder than anyone had ever hit me in the head before. My eyes swam and watered and I literally couldn’t breathe through the pain. A moment later, I caught my breath, but I didn’t say anything. I’d learned my lesson.

Who were these clowns? They weren’t wearing insignia. Maybe they were the terrorists! I’d never really believed in terrorists before—I mean I knew that in the abstract there were terrorists somewhere in the world, but they didn’t really represent any risk to me. There were millions of ways that the world could kill me—starting with getting run down by a drunk burning his way down Valencia—that were infinitely more likely and immediate than terrorists. Terrorists kill a lot fewer people than bathroom falls and accidental electrocutions. Worrying about them always struck me as about as useful as worrying about getting hit by lightning.

Marcus soon learns he’s been detained by the Department of Homeland Security as a person of interest in the terrorist attack.

“You think I’m a terrorist? I’m seventeen years old!”

“Just the right age—Al Qaeda loves recruiting impressionable, idealistic kids. We googled you, you know. You’ve posted a lot of very ugly stuff on the public Internet.”

”I’d like to speak to an attorney.”

Severe haircut lady looked at me like I was a bug. “You’re under the mistaken impression that you’ve been picked up by the police for a crime. You need to get past that. You are being detained as a potential enemy combatant by the government of the United States. If I were you, I’d be thinking very hard about how to convince us that you are not an enemy combatant.”

Despite the threats made by his captors, Marcus refuses to unlock and unencrypt his cell phone, or give any information to them. He feels that he is a citizen who loves freedom, which makes him the patriot and his captors the traitors. He is detained for five days, and released when he agrees to sign papers that declared he had been held for voluntary questioning. He is then released and told to say nothing of what has happened to him to anyone, even his parents. He is told that he will be under constant surveillance.

When he returns to school the following week, he finds things have changed since the terrorist attack. The school board has installed closed circuit televisions in every classroom for the students’ protection.

Why did we have cameras in our classrooms now? Terrorists. Of course. Because by blowing up a bridge, terrorists had indicated that schools were next. Somehow that was the conclusion the Board had reached anyway.

I stuck my hand up.

”Yes, Marcus?”

“Ms. Galvez, about this note?”

“Yes, Marcus.”

“Isn’t the point of terrorism to make us afraid? That’s why it’s called terrorism, right?”

”I suppose so.” The class was staring at me. I wasn’t the best student in school, but I did like a good in-class debate. They were waiting to hear what I’d say next.

“So aren’t we doing what the terrorists want from us? Don’t they win if we act all afraid and put cameras in the classrooms and all of that?”

There was some nervous tittering. One of the others put his hand up. It was Charles. Ms. Galvez called on him.

“Putting cameras in makes us safe, which makes us less afraid.”

”Safe from what?” I asked, without waiting to be called on.

“Terrorism,” Charles said. The others were nodding their heads.

“How do they do that? If a suicide bomber rushed in here and blew us all up—“

“Ms. Galvez, Marcus is violating school policy. We’re not supposed to make jokes about terrorist attacks—“

“Who’s making jokes?”

“Thank you, both of you,” Ms. Galvez said. She looked really unhappy.

Marcus is watched and followed in the days to come. When he finally tells his parents what really happened to him, they are horrified at his ordeal, contact an investigative reporter, and from that moment on, Marcus is in danger. He organizes an event that will bring the overreaching arm of the DHS into the public eye, and things go horribly wrong, causing Marcus’ worst fears to be realized.

Both 1984 and Little Brother serve as warnings. In the Afterword to Little Brother, Andrew Huang asks whether the terrorists have already won:

“Have we given in to fear, such that artists, hobbyists, hackers, iconoclasts or perhaps a group of kids playing Harajuku Fun Madness could be so trivially implicated as terrorists?” He goes on to say that “technology is no cure for paranoia. Coercing millions of people to strip off their outer garments and walk barefoot through metal detectors everyday is no solution, either. It only serves to remind the population that they have a reason to be afraid, while in practice providing only a flimsy barrier to a determined adversary.”

We are fond of slogans like “Freedom isn’t Free.” We must remember that we win freedom by having the courage to live every day as free people—no matter how big the threats on the horizon.

Please don’t give in to fear and paranoia. Don’t forget to be brave. Don’t believe that the things the government does to take away our freedoms are merely a small price to pay for our safety.

http://cg68doc.newsvine.com/_news/2013/08/06/19885640-exclusive-us-directs-agents-to-cover-up-program-used-to-investigate-americans

 

  ***

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published at www.counteractbook.com and is used with the permission of the author.
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TRACY LAWSON has wanted to be a writer ever since she learned to read. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Communication from Ohio University, and though she embarked on a career in the performing arts as a dance instructor and choreographer, never lost her desire to write, and thus far has to her credit a coming-of-age dystopian thriller and an historical nonfiction. Her interest in writing for teens is sparked by all the wonderful young people in her life, including her daughter, Keri, a college sophomore.

Tracy is also the author of Counteract.

Counteract: Book 1 of the Resistance Series (2014) is the story of a guy, a girl, the terrorist attack that brings them together, and their race to expose a conspiracy that could destroy their country from within. What Tommy and Careen learn about the true nature of the terrorist threat spurs them to take action, and their decisions lead them to run afoul of local law enforcement, team up with an underground resistance group, and ultimately take their quest for the truth to the highest reaches of the United States government. The second book in the series is slated for release in 2015.

For more about the book, check out Tracy’s website for a synopsis.

There’s even a book trailer!

Dystopia Tuesday: Comparison of Lord of the Flies by William Golding and Gone by Michael Grant

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Lord of the Flies (1954) and Gone (2008) share a common theme: that the human impulse toward civilization is not as deeply rooted as the human impulse toward savagery.  Both novels explore what happens when children are left without any adult supervision.

In Lord of the Flies, a planeload of English schoolboys crashes on an uninhabited tropical island. All the adults are killed in the crash, and the boys attempt to govern themselves while they wait for rescue.

In Gone, everyone fifteen and older in Perdido Beach, California mysteriously vanishes one morning, leaving the young teens, children, and babies trapped inside a mysterious, impenetrable force field with no adult supervision, no working technology, and no way to get help.

In my last post, I suggested that teens that had read Matched by Ally Condie would be familiar with the themes of censorship and oppressive societal organization, and therefore well-prepared to recognize those themes in classic dystopian novels like Fahrenheit 451.

Gone is more than just a warm-up read to prepare for the themes in Lord of the Flies. A Voice of Youth Advocates review of Gone suggested “if Stephen King had written Lord of the Flies, it might have been a little like this.”  Be warned. Gone is scary.  Gone has its tender moments and the occasional laugh, but it’s every bit as scary as Lord of the Flies—and perhaps more so, as today’s teens would be more likely to identify with Sam, the reluctant leader who teams up with Astrid, the brainy and unattainable girl in his class at school, than they would with Ralph, Piggy, Jack and the other prep school boys who are stranded on the island.

Lord of the Flies uses the children’s fear of the Beast, a supernatural being that they believe haunts the island, as a metaphor for the evil that lurks within each of us, but the supernatural force in Gone is not merely symbolic. Perdido Beach was struck by an asteroid fifteen years before, and now freaky things are happening. Some of the characters develop unusual powers, and are hunted, used, and persecuted for their dangerous, deadly talents.

The boys in Lord of the Flies immediately set up a hierarchy—they elect Ralph leader, and place Jack in charge of hunting and keeping the signal fire going. The older boys fail to keep watch over the youngest children, the “littleuns,” who run naked and wild through the woods. The hunters let the signal fire go out and miss an opportunity for rescue. Soon most of the boys shirk their responsibilities, revert to superstition and ritual, and lose their civilized selves.

They eventually revert to their basest selves, and, in a moment of superstitious terror, murder their classmate, Simon, by tearing him to pieces with their hands and teeth. Even Ralph, who has struggled to maintain their civilization, takes part in the ritual killing of Simon, who was goodness and innocence, now lost.

The kids in Gone are stranded in their home town, but still flounder without the technology and the authority figures that defined and controlled their society. They push Sam to be their leader, and right away Sam realizes he’ll have trouble from a group of bullies. The teens set up a plan for caring for the youngest children (called the prees) and distributing food. Astrid wonders why they see no soldiers, or scientists, or news crews on the other side of the barrier.

Many of the girls in Perdido Beach assume the roles of healer, mother, teacher, and even love interest— perhaps that is why their society functions longer, and at a higher level, than the one in Lord of the Flies.  But the girls are not all stuck in traditional roles—some of them are spies and warriors, too, when the time comes.

Astrid’s autistic brother, Little Pete, lives in his own world, though Astrid is able to reach him sometimes, through rituals they developed during their life with their parents. Little Pete is a symbol of innocence, yet he wields a power that might just eclipse all the others’.

Soon another threat becomes apparent. The rich kids from Coates Academy, the private school on the hill, roll in to town in a convoy of expensive cars. Though they say they want to team up with the Perdido Beach kids until help arrives, but that turns out to be far from the truth.

In both Lord of the Flies and Gone, the antagonists are bullies whose attacks escalate until very few remain strong enough to resist them, and the final conflicts are battles to the death.

The naval officers who rescue Ralph and the other survivors in Lord of the Flies are symbols of civilization, of good. They cannot be blamed for abandoning the boys.

The adults in Gone have all vanished. Where are they? Have they died? If not, could they help what happened to them? The children wish to be reunited with their family members, but they also fear the unknown. As Sam nears his own 15th birthday, he learns that adults are not all-knowing, and are not to be blindly trusted.

Lord of the Flies is complete in one volume, but Gone is the first in a series of five novels, so be forewarned–you must read on to learn what happens to Sam, Astrid, and the others.

I found my husband’s bookmark in my copy of Gone this morning, and I remembered that he’d stopped reading the book because it upset him too much. I think he could’ve powered through and enjoyed it. I hope he’ll try again.

  ***

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published at www.counteractbook.com and is used with the permission of the author.
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TRACY LAWSON has wanted to be a writer ever since she learned to read. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Communication from Ohio University, and though she embarked on a career in the performing arts as a dance instructor and choreographer, never lost her desire to write, and thus far has to her credit a coming-of-age dystopian thriller and an historical nonfiction. Her interest in writing for teens is sparked by all the wonderful young people in her life, including her daughter, Keri, a college sophomore.

Tracy is also the author of Counteract.

Counteract: Book 1 of the Resistance Series (2014) is the story of a guy, a girl, the terrorist attack that brings them together, and their race to expose a conspiracy that could destroy their country from within. What Tommy and Careen learn about the true nature of the terrorist threat spurs them to take action, and their decisions lead them to run afoul of local law enforcement, team up with an underground resistance group, and ultimately take their quest for the truth to the highest reaches of the United States government. The second book in the series is slated for release in 2015.

For more about the book, check out Tracy’s website for a synopsis.

There’s even a book trailer!

Dystopia Tuesday: Comparison of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Matched by Allie Condie

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Today I’m comparing two books that, at first glance, might appear to have nothing in common. And I’m going to try to do it without spoilers…we’ll see how it goes.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I believe YA dystopian literature can serve as a bridge to the classics in the genre. Introducing young teen readers to books with social commentary in a YA setting better prepares them to accept and appreciate adult novels with similar themes.

Both Fahrenheit 451 and Matched illustrate how societal organization can easily become oppressive and regimented, and both focus on the evils of censorship.

The main characters in both novels live in restrictive environments, but nonetheless are expected to go through a “period of curiosity.”

Guy Montag, the protagonist in Fahrenheit 451, has been a fireman for ten years. Firemen in his society burn books, yet Montag has a secret cache of books he’s taken from various fires. When he’s discovered with the contraband, his supervisor gives him one day to read them, to satisfy his curiosity and help him see just how worthless and confusing books are.

In Matched, 17 year-old Cassia Reyes has just been assigned her ideal mate. Cassia notes that indiscretions among newly Matched teens are common, as the Officials expect the teens to experiment a bit with other partners before they settle into their assigned marriages at the age of 21.

The characters’ curiosity may be expected, but it is not tolerated. Montag’s own wife turns him in for having books in his possession, and Cassia’s Infraction is a kiss, shared with a boy who is not her Match.

The people in both societies exist under a Mask of Happiness.  The oppressive societies, developed for the comfort of the people, have rules and regulations that eliminate ideas. Without ideas, everyone conforms. With conformity, everyone is equal, and therefore everyone should be happy. The governments in both novels assert that when books and new ideas are available to people, conflict and unhappiness occur.

Montag’s fire captain, Beatty, tells Montag that because each person is angered by some kind of literature, it is best to get rid of it all. He described how books were burned first by minorities, each ripping a page or paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever.

In Cassia’s world, Selection Committees scaled down the number of books, paintings, and songs in the Society to 100 each. The remainder are forbidden and destroyed. Cassia’s father is a Restoration supervisor whose job is to oversee the incineration of the contents of libraries.

In both Fahrenheit 451 and Matched, characters memorize the written word to battle censorship and literally give life to books.

Both novels describe societies that are terrifying to imagine, but not as far-fetched as we might believe.

But there is hope because these books have been written. As I put the finishing touches on Counteract, I feel humbled to join the ranks.

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Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published at www.counteractbook.com and is used with the permission of the author.
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TRACY LAWSON has wanted to be a writer ever since she learned to read. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Communication from Ohio University, and though she embarked on a career in the performing arts as a dance instructor and choreographer, never lost her desire to write, and thus far has to her credit a coming-of-age dystopian thriller and an historical nonfiction. Her interest in writing for teens is sparked by all the wonderful young people in her life, including her daughter, Keri, a college sophomore.

Tracy is also the author of Counteract.

Counteract: Book 1 of the Resistance Series (2014) is the story of a guy, a girl, the terrorist attack that brings them together, and their race to expose a conspiracy that could destroy their country from within. What Tommy and Careen learn about the true nature of the terrorist threat spurs them to take action, and their decisions lead them to run afoul of local law enforcement, team up with an underground resistance group, and ultimately take their quest for the truth to the highest reaches of the United States government. The second book in the series is slated for release in 2015.

For more about the book, check out Tracy’s website for a synopsis.

There’s even a book trailer!

Dystopia Tuesday: Twisted Versions of Perfection

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Dystopian novels are combination horror stories and cautionary tales, set against twisted versions of perfect societies. Dystopian heroes are discontented—they don’t fit in, and often lack the self-awareness to realize why.

Teens (like the little ol’ seventh-grade version of me) who aren’t yet ready for the heavy-hitting social commentary in the classics of the genre may find those same themes and messages, presented in the context of a YA book, much more palatable.

In YA dystopian societies, civilization is usually managed by absent adult authority figures. For teenagers who fear they’ve inherited a chaotic world, yet feel stifled by the rules, these fictional societies resonate. Dystopian societies take rule-making to the extreme. Extreme control. Extreme censorship. Extreme surveillance. No dissenting ideas. In these societies, parents and children are often subjected to the same controls and restrictions.

The classics of adult dystopia tends to be more apocalyptic, more dire. YA dystopia can be apocalyptic and scary—but it can also feel a lot like high school, where everyone feels pressure to conform. To escape the fear, alienation, and danger, protagonists band together with others like themselves.

YA dystopian fiction opens a pathway to explore and appreciate the genre—and appreciating makes it easier for teens to fully absorb the classics when they’re assigned to read them at school, or choose to read them for pleasure.

Next up: I’ll compare Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Matched by Allie Condie

 

***

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published at www.counteractbook.com and is used with the permission of the author.

 

26V9E new tag

TRACY LAWSON has wanted to be a writer ever since she learned to read. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Communication from Ohio University, and though she embarked on a career in the performing arts as a dance instructor and choreographer, never lost her desire to write, and thus far has to her credit a coming-of-age dystopian thriller and an historical nonfiction. Her interest in writing for teens is sparked by all the wonderful young people in her life, including her daughter, Keri, a college sophomore.

Tracy is also the author of Counteract.

Counteract: Book 1 of the Resistance Series (2014) is the story of a guy, a girl, the terrorist attack that brings them together, and their race to expose a conspiracy that could destroy their country from within. What Tommy and Careen learn about the true nature of the terrorist threat spurs them to take action, and their decisions lead them to run afoul of local law enforcement, team up with an underground resistance group, and ultimately take their quest for the truth to the highest reaches of the United States government. The second book in the series is slated for release in 2015.

For more about the book, check out Tracy’s website for a synopsis.

There’s even a book trailer!

Dystopia Tuesday: The Year of My Dystopia

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I spent seventh grade in a dystopian haze, haunted by thoughts of totalitarian regimes, privations, curtailed personal freedoms, ubiquitous surveillance technology, and nuclear war.  Oh, and those awful utilitarian jumpsuits everyone had to wear.

And why, you ask? Well, it was like this…

Back in the 70s, young adult fiction as we know it did not exist. I read series like Trixie Belden and Sweet Valley High, which meant I was one step off from reading books about bunnies and rainbows.

But that year in English class, we were assigned Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, On the Beach, Fail-Safe, Brave New World and Flowers for Algernon, the bulk of the classics in the dystopian genre, with a science-fiction chaser and a couple Cold War propaganda novels and their film versions thrown in for good measure.  (Thank God they didn’t assign Clockwork Orange until high school.)

I was twelve, and I was terrified by what I read. I’d never seen a scary movie in my life. I had no frame of reference for the suffering in those books, didn’t connect with the characters, and found it hard to imagine societies and worlds so different from my own. I didn’t see these books as social commentary, as warnings, or as calls to arms. They were English assignments, and dreaded ones at that.

Years later, I choose to write in the young adult dystopian genre. Because now I get it, and I can tell an exciting story to share what I think. Frankly, writing YA dystopian fiction…rocks.

I’ve been re-reading the classics with great interest, and I’ll be taking a look at old v. new dystopian fiction in future posts.

Some of my new favorites:

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Matched by Ally Condie

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

The Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix

The Farm by Emily McKay

Bumped by Megan McCafferty

Gone by Michael Grant

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Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published at www.counteractbook.com and is used with the permission of the author.

 

TRACY LAWSON has wanted to be a writer ever since she learned to read. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Communication from Ohio University, and though she embarked on a career in the performing arts as a dance instructor and choreographer, never lost her desire to write, and thus far has to her credit a coming-of-age dystopian thriller and an historical nonfiction. Her interest in writing for teens is sparked by all the wonderful young people in her life, including her daughter, Keri, a college sophomore.

Tracy is also the author of Counteract.

Counteract: Book 1 of the Resistance Series (2014) is the story of a guy, a girl, the terrorist attack that brings them together, and their race to expose a conspiracy that could destroy their country from within. What Tommy and Careen learn about the true nature of the terrorist threat spurs them to take action, and their decisions lead them to run afoul of local law enforcement, team up with an underground resistance group, and ultimately take their quest for the truth to the highest reaches of the United States government. The second book in the series is slated for release in 2015.

For more about the book, check out Tracy’s website for a synopsis.

There’s even a book trailer!