Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Jeff: The End of the World as I Know It

Look at any list of upcoming YA novels and what jumps out at you? More than likely it is some combination of the words post-apocalyptic or dystopian. I mean, they're everywhere; right? I should know, my book, The Long Walk Home, is one of them.

Now, assuming all us writers aren't just trend followers (Honestly, it's not really possible. It just takes way to long to write edit and get a book published) what's going on? Why are so many writers, independent of each other, writing stories like this and why are people so interested in reading them? Specifically why are kids interested in reading them?

Well I can only theorize why kids are reading them (which I'll do in a minute) but here's what led me to write mine....

I was thinking about the Gordian Knot. You know the story. Alexander the Great comes to Gordium and finds a knot so complex he can't untie it. His solution? Chop it in half with his sword. Problem solved. I think alot of people think our world feels alot like that knot--mind bogglingly complex and so twisted up with competing ideologies and completely unsustainable, but politically unassailable, policies that the whole thing has just ground to a halt and become completely useless. Sometimes it feels like the only solution, the only way we'll ever be able to move forward, is to just tear it down and start all over again. I mean, who doesn't have a fantasy of a simpler and quieter time? A time when we live closer to nature, closer to each other, closer to our own necessity. I think that idea, the idea of being able to hit the reset button on the world and being faced with the sheer sense of possibility that would bring, is what drew me to writing a book like this.

Now, why do kids want to read this stuff? Well partially I think for the reasons above. They live in the same world that we do; they're not blind. But also I think that when you're moving through your teens years your life is a constant upending of everything you know. Like many writers, I spent my early teen years as an impenetrably shy loner. I ate alone. I had no friends. I had no direction. But then one day I wandered into our High School's theater when auditions were going on and for some reason I got up on that stage and BAM! For the first time in my life I was good at something! And so much followed that. I found a focus, I found friends, I found a sense of humor, I found girls that were actually willing to talk to me. I found a me that simply wasn't there before. If this wasn't the end of one world and the beginning of a new one I didn't know what was.

And it seems like when you're a teen so many events in your life are like that, these huge catalysts for transformation. You go from Junior High to High School. Maybe your parents move and you have to switch schools. You make the football team or you don't. A girl talks to you or she doesn't. One little adjustment and everything can change. Over and over you're saying goodbye to one world and hello to another. Didn't it feel like that? So monumental? We laugh at it now, all the drama, but add years of near constant transformative change to a set of raging hormones and a evolving sense of self and no wonder every little thing felt like the end of the world. Of course our teens years felt monumental. They were monumental.

So I think when teens read this sort of story they connect to it because they understand the idea of a life that is constantly subject to transformation, they get the grandeur of it, the angst and fear and possibility of it. I think teens like this stuff simply because the end of the world makes sense to them. To them it's something that happens every day. I know it did to me.


  1. Really well said, Jeff. I also think another reason this is appealing to kids is because of the times in which we live. Earthquakes, volcanoes, terrorism, bizarre reality shows. The ideas put forth in these novels are not so far-fetched as they once were. Kids (and adults) can relate to them on a "This-could-happen" kind of level.

    Uh, I guess.

  2. Hi Ron, good to see you here. Yeah, I think you're totally right. Sadly there are a multitude of reasons these days for the end of the world to feel more likely than ever. Of course when you look back people throughout history have thought that about the times they live in too. It seems like no matter what we always think we're living on a precipice. Wonder what that says about us....

  3. Jeff - I totally agree. I also think kids love seeing other kids survive tough times. It makes them think - maybe I can survive all this stuff going on in my own life that suddenly doesn't look quite so bad. :)

    I can't wait to read your book!!

  4. Great point Lisa. I had never thought about it that way.

    Can't wait to go grab one of your books as well!

  5. I love this post. I never looked at it in that sense.

  6. Hi Liz, great to meet you and glad you enjoyed the post. Love your blog!


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