Plague is the New Dystopia: Trends in YA


Trend tracking is a delicate and tricky thing. The minute you stumble upon one, the trend seems to have passed. But I can’t ignore the number of YA plague novels that seem to be on the horizon. It can be argued (successfully) that plague books fall under the larger umbrella of dystopian fiction, but I find that in most cases, a plague is mentioned as the cause of the society’s current dystopian state, but the main action of the book takes place in the aftermath, not during the outbreak itself. There are also an awful lot of zombie novels that begin as plague novels, in which the zombies function as the plague, infecting the living.

I find outbreak stories genuinely terrifying, moreso than traditional dystopian novels. Plague books have an element of “this could really happen” because it HAS already happened, a number of times in history. Nothing is more leveling than disease.  I love scary books and I love trying to imagine what I would do if I was- god forbid- running around a plague-stricken city (currently knocking on all sorts of wood). Here are two of the most promising looking plague books on the market.

First up, Megan Crewe’s hotly anticipated THE WAY WE FALL (Disney/Hyperion), the first in a new trilogy. There’s been lots of pre-publication buzz for this book and I couldn’t be more thrilled for this young Canadian author. When a deadly virus begins to sweep through sixteen-year-old Kaelyn’s community, the government quarantines her island—no one can leave, and no one can come back. Those still healthy must fight for dwindling supplies, or lose all chance of survival. Inspired by books like Stephen King’s The Stand, Doomsday Book (Connie Willis), The Plague (Albert Camus), and awesome middle grade title Life as We Knew It (Beth Pfieffer), this book promises to be like the movie Outbreak but with teenagers on the brink of adulthood. Honestly, what more do you want in a book?

Check out this GREAT trailer:

Bethany Griffin’s MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (Greenwillow), based loosely on the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name, is due out in May. This creepy gothic novel takes place in a city that feels a little like Paris and a lot like New Orleans. A plague has decimated most of the world’s population and Araby’s father, a scientist, has discovered a mask that filters the air and provides protection. The only catch is that maniacal Prince Prospero controls who gets a mask and the masses can’t afford them.  Everything in the book oscillates between lavish and squalor- incredible gowns and balls and corpses rotting in the streets. I am not a love triangle girl (I maintain that Peeta and Gale exist to help Katniss fulfil her role and develop into the woman she will become, not as romantic polar opposites for her to agonize over. I will not comment on that *other* famous YA love triangle), but I admit to getting caught up in Araby’s struggle between manic genius and consummate bad boy with a cause Elliott, and works-all night-in-the-debauchery-district-wearing-sexy-eyeliner-in-order-to-support-his-orphaned-younger-siblings Will. If it’s not yet clear, I LOVED this book- full review to come later.

Both of these novels are by promising young authors who’ve taken a genre and made it their own. Plague books may be a close relative to dystopian novels, but there is something even more immediate and chilling about them. Let’s hope more authors get infected (sorry, I almost went an entire post without a bad plague pun) by this fledgling genre.

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One thought on “Plague is the New Dystopia: Trends in YA

  1. Laura Fabiani says:

    I have read good reviews on The Way We Fall but this is the first time I hear of Masque of the Red Death. I have to admit this post has me super curious about both books. My first taste in dystopian was 1984 which I read a while back in high school and which I hated but then I tried more recently The Giver and Fahrenheit 451 and of course, the Hunger Games and this genre has grown on me.

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