I did not deliberately select my sample reading for simplistic high concepts, but wow, did I get a lot.

A high concept is a plot which can be easily and representatively summarized in a short sentence. If doing so would misrepresent the actual experience of reading the book, then the book does not have a high concept. “Snakes on a plane” gives you a good idea of Snakes on a Plane; “A bus is wired to explode if it drops below 50 mph” gives you a good idea of Speed. Those are high-concept movies. If you like the concept, you’ll probably like the movie. “Nine people go on a quest to drop a ring into a volcano,” though technically correct, does not give you a good idea of the experience of reading Lord of the Rings.

The majority of the opening chapters of YA dystopias I’ve read have been so monomaniacally focused on their high concepts that they reminded me of the panel of the “Life in Hell” comic strip about the nine types of college professors which depicted the “One Theory Explains Everything Maniac” as a rabbit shaking his cane and shouting, “The nation that controls magnesium controls the world!”

Individually, some of them show promise. Collectively, they are tedious and one-dimensional. I was not especially impressed with the worldbuilding in The Hunger Games, but the first few chapters did show a world in which people had problems and apart from the Hunger Games, committed small crimes and often got away with them, and had personalities and relationships dictated by personal concerns rather than bizarre socially mandated rules.

In most of the books I’ve sampled, the first chapters are about little but the one-note concept, the characters think about little but the concept and speak about little but the concept, and the government is absurdly fixated on peculiar things, like the food individuals eat and the colors they’re allowed to wear, and, except for the obligatory Resistance, completely effective in controlling every moment of every person’s day. The heroines are naïve but spunky girls, unconvincingly ruminating at great length about how their societies came to be and how they function. It’s a paper world, sketched on the back of a sermon.

The Water Wars, by Cameron Stracher. Dystopia is drought. Water is strictly rationed, and the Water Allocation Board runs everything. Everyone is always desperately thirsty. The heroine is fascinated by a hot boy whom she sees… shock horror! …wasting water. Not badly written, but it didn’t grab me.

Wither (The Chemical Garden Trilogy), by Lauren DeStefano. Dystopia is all the men dying at 25, and all the women at 20. (Why such exact ages?) This is attributed to a virus, though it seems more likely to come from genetic defects, as this occurred to the children of the first post-genetic engineering generation. The result, which I don’t think logically follows, is that girls are at constant risk of kidnapping and forced marriage. I would think it would be much more likely that people would simply start marrying in their mid-teens. Not badly written, but it didn’t grab me. I was also a little put off by two separate vomiting incidents in two chapters.

Bumped, by Megan McCafferty. Dystopia is enthusiastically encouraged teen pregnancy. This one is different: it’s a satire, and it’s actually kind of funny. None of the others had any deliberate humor whatsoever, so this came as a very pleasant surprise. The targets are more wide-ranging than “teen pregnancy,” which suggests that it may be able to sustain itself for the length of a book. The slang is believable, and there’s a plausible teenage voice. I’ll probably read this one eventually, as the first few chapters were nicely written and amusing.

Birthmarked (Birthmarked Trilogy), by Caragh M. O’Brien. Dystopia is the government confiscating a percentage of all babies born. In the chapter I read, about a teenage midwife, it was not made clear why, or if she even knew why. Something about the writing style and storytelling of this one did grab me – while still closely focused on baby-snatching, it allowed a small amount of breathing room for individual relationships and emotions. I’d try this from the library.
[personal profile] telophase has created an online YA dystopia generator!

Thrill: Nudity has been banned and the government controls darkness.

Bounce: Heterosexuality has been banned and the government controls popsicles.

Leap: Roads have been banned and the government controls gravity.

I'm sure she's still adding to it, so feel free to suggest titles and things which could be banned or controlled.

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