by author Jonathan Friesen

I awoke from my nap to this sight: My son, eight-years old, standing on the deck. I saw him through my bedroom window, and watched as he stared up at the sky.

He began to conduct. With large flourishes, that kid swept his arms to and fro, and the rain fell, soft at first and then harder and harder as he gestured with more drama. He was soaked, and he was in his glory. Finally, the rain slowed, and the wind died. He held his hands above his head for a good half minute, silencing the last drop. My son turned, paused and turned back, waving at the clouds, thanking the One who for five minutes gave him control of the sky.

He has absolutely no interest in dystopians.

My eight-year old stares with eyes of wonder at the everyday of life. Sudden storms, the new kittens, the old oak. He shrugs off the hundreds of controls placed on his very regulated existence: get up at seven, gather the chicken eggs, don a fresh shirt, etc. The rules and regulations that order his young world don’t bother him in the least.He doesn’t question them, not when there is so much yet to discover.

Now, I have a fifteen-year old. For her, much of life’s wonder has lessened. I suppose that is a sad thing, but more likely it the natural result of growing and understanding and experiencing … and noticing. Noticing that many of the controls placed on her make little sense. As her sense of wonder has decreased, her desire for freedom has blossomed.

My, does she love a good dystopian!

Teens are in a wonderful and irritating in-between place. They are beginning to understand how the system works, and are smart enough to see that advancing in society takes a lot of hoop jumping. In short, they are old enough to feel restrained, but not old enough to do anything about it.

Why are teens (and tweens)  drawn to dystopias?

Why are teens (and tweens) drawn to dystopians?

Enter a dystopian. Catching Fire, Divergent, Aquifer. There they meet a teen, an easy friend, who also lives in-between. Except this friend performs on the page what can only be dreamed of in real life: They refuse to jump through the hoop. They might fight. They might run. It doesn’t matter.

They resist.

And something in their stand feels quite wonderful to a heart that longs for freedom.

This passion to escape the system doesn’t vanish when one turns twenty, which explains, in part, the enduring popularity of dystopians across the age spectrum. Yet, freedom’s tug is first experienced in the teen years, and like first love, that tug is wild and fierce.

Now, I have a third child, a levelheaded twelve-year old. He loves to hunt and fish and work in our neighbor’s fields.

Surely, I thought, this one will avoid the dystopian hysteria.

He came home recently. “All I need to live is some land to farm, a gun for hunting, and Divergent.”

Maybe not.


Jonathan Friesen is an author, speaker, and youth writing coach from Mora, Minnesota. His first young adult novel, Jerk, California, received the ALA Schneider Award. When he’s not writing, speaking at schools, or teaching, Jonathan loves to travel and hang out with his wife and three kids. His latest book, Aquifer is a YA dystopian set in the year 2250, where a ruling class controls the entire world by controlling the only source of hydration, buried deep underground—and they also control the flow of knowledge. While the Wise Ones can monitor the Topper world above and the “Water Rat” mines below, there’s one boy they can’t watch, and he has the passion and knowledge to find a crucial prophecy and potentially change the world.

4 Thoughts on “Dystopians … Ah, Freedom!

  1. Wendy Dawn on November 14, 2013 at 10:45 am said:

    I never thought in these terms before. I think I need to check out Aquifer.

  2. Wendy Dawn on November 14, 2013 at 10:47 am said:

    A nice way to think about dystopians. I think I need to check out Aquifer.

  3. Marc Neser on November 14, 2013 at 10:57 am said:

    @Wendy. You should. The book made me think in shades of gray, not the standard black and white, teen is good, system is bad, fare that so often accompanies this genre

  4. Your writing really drew me in instantly…the vision of your son was so crystal clear to me and I can’t thank you enough for sharing such a personal and etheric moment…what an amazing child you got there!
    Good luck with your work…I believe I’ll give your book a chance…thx again, June

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