Another Bleak and Violent Future in Teen Fiction


Another Bleak and Violent Future in Teen Fiction

a book review on

Red Queen By Victoria Aveyard 

Teen literature has always tended to err on the angsty side. And I love that. Sometimes you just need a good, miserable wallow in things being not what they should.

Back in my day, growing up with Potter and Bella Swan, things would get dark and lives would be in danger, but the landscape was fairly navigable from deep trauma until you were too far in the series to care about saving yourself heartache when these characters disappeared. Now…welcome to a brave new world, where every other teen fiction book is part of a series and the first book usually hits hard with death, destruction, family massacre and dystopian visions of how much our future is going to suck.

A book like Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard doesn’t stand out in the current world of teen fiction because it follows the formula they’ve all come to mimic (and to great success). There’s a teen heroine (sometimes a male, but less and less common) and she’s different. She loves her family and best male friend, and will do whatever it takes to save them from evil government/monarchy/monster mayhem. Also, it’s the future and the world is way messed up…kinda unlivable, a totally changed landscape. The differences to make the work unique with Red Queen are best summed up with an analysis  from GoodReads reviewer Rachel Carver who writes: “Red Queen is Game of Thrones with Katniss as the Mockingjay with X-Men…”

So nothing is new.

But does that mean that Red Queen is a “bad” book; not worth reading? Thankfully, no. Red Queen was a page-turner, written well, made intriguing with fun and terrifying characters, and told with a strong, admirable female narrator at the helm. I didn’t mind that it fused a lot of popular themes and story lines into one narrative. It was fun. It was also pretty traumatic.

Red Queen doesn’t pull any punches. Our main character, Mare Barrow, lives in a gritty future world on the bottom of the social totem pole, and when she’s given the chance to ascend into the ranks of hierarchy things get bloody and vicious. I’m not one to censure literature, and so if a teen has the capability to read this book and wants to, then go for it. But it reads like an adult work to me. I’m a Tarantino fan, and I was cringing at some of the blood lust.

Mayhaps, we should blame it on the changing society and violence you see just in a local newscast. Either way, Red Queen may be a captivating book, but it’s not a “nice” read.

I’ll be very interested to see what Aveyard does for the rest of the books in this series. Keeping up the momentum of this first book is going to be tricky, but she’s paved a good ground to establishing mystery and doubtful loyalties. Total kudos for making the romance that is so frequent in teen fiction more of a backdrop here, and not letting it dominate story-line or character action. Plus(!), Aveyard is just 23 years old. A work of this quality is accomplishment for any age, but that youthful element is nice to see.

Personally, I’d recommend it…but with my own “Parental Advisory” sticker in the description.


Dookie (40 Years of Solitude)

I wrote this today in my Nostalgia journal, and it’s alternately something I’m proud of and something I’m uncomfortable with. I think it’s realist, but it may be too cynical as well. Oh well. Have at it.


“Dookie (40 Years of Solitude)”

Back in 1994, your mother was given a CD called “Dookie” and she sold it to a used records store, because a silly title like that didn’t seem worth a listen. This is the first brush with your own developing musical taste that you can remember. You wore a purple jumper then. You knew how to read chapter books. You struggled with use of scissors. Your baby sister was on the way. 

Fast forward 20 years and you are buying the “Dookie” vinyl reissue. You wear black stripes, a cardigan of obsidian, and ebony Chucks laced with irony. You’ve read David Foster Wallace, Updike, Woolf and Palahniuk, but you’re stuck on picture paneled books about the Endless these days. You still struggle sometimes with scissors. Baby Sister is on her way to meet you for coffee before her next class. 

Shall we peek ahead still 20 turns more? At 46, you’ll remember making the choice to sell your record collection when you moved cross country for love or money, but not both. You’ll wear more comfortable shoes and pants suits too, but mostly whatever is comfortable because boys are men and they don’t pay you much mind anymore. You read student’s essay and magazines on healthy trans fats. At least food packaging these days makes scissor skills obsolete. And Baby Sister will be due soon. She’s invited you to perform Aunt-ly duties and for coffee…perhaps she feels sorry for you, still writing “undiscovered,” still chasing strains of music recorded before she even existed.