I had a very long semester in school and at the end of it, I found myself reading several post-apocalyptic novels. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I found it very soothing, and after reading three or four, I started to wonder what that was about.
Post-apocalyptic stories take place, well, post-apocalypse. The general storyline is that something apocalyptic–be it a natural disaster, like the moon falling out of orbit, or nuclear war, widespread disease and famine–happens to decimate most of the population and change the world that we know forever. And usually one teen has to make something at least for himself or herself out of this new world, whether or not she is also called on to enact change on the wider-world scale. Of course The Hunger Games is the biggest example of this genre right now. And I love those books.
As I delved into more and more of these books, though, I wondered what relevance they actually have for modern teens? I mean, the moon hasn’t and probably won’t be knocked out of orbit anytime soon. Most of the population isn’t likely to be wiped out by plague or zombies anytime soon. And while nuclear war is always a possibility, I doubt that reading a novel ahead of time will actually help any of us cope with it if it does happen. So what is with this trend? If we don’t live in a post-apocalyptic world, then why are these stories so popular?
And then I realized that some of us kind of do. Those living in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, those living in Newton, CT after the Sandy hook school shootings, New York City residents after the twin towers came down. There are community-wide disasters that must completely alter the people connected to those places forever. These events also affect the wider community and create a heightened sense of anxiety that seems to be one of the hallmarks of this kind of narrative.
On a more personal level, I think these narratives might also explore the emotional repercussions of childhood trauma. Kids who have been abused throughout their childhood suddenly find themselves in adulthood in a foreign world that they can’t really understand how to navigate. Trauma leaves an imprint and it is hard to know how to deal with it or interact in the world once it is, in fact, over. And I think that’s where post-apocalyptic narratives can be useful. They show teens in a very extreme situation learning to navigate a new world completely changed by the trauma. They give voice to more extreme emotions than most narratives can honestly claim. They show what people do when really pushed to the extreme. And that’s what kids who have lived through extreme abuse have really experienced.
So these are the post-apocalyptic books I have read (by no means a systematic or exhaustive list.) I would love to know others.
- The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
- Life as We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone, and The World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer
- Devastation by Gloria Skurzynski
- The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch
- The Color of Rain by Cori McCarthy
- How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
- Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant by Veronica Roth
- The City of Ember series by Jeanne DuPrau (which, take note all you Yeatts’s who might lurk on my blog, includes one of our family photos, I discovered to my shock when reading it.)
I think those are all the ones that I have read, but I’m pretty new to this genre. Anyone else have any others?