Lately I have noticed an increase in sexuality and sex in YA novels. Now I know this isn't exactly a new trend, but the way sex is being used in these novels is definitely attention grabbing. Three recent novels are ones that have really gotten me to think about sex in teen dystopian novels thematically.
First, let me start off by saying that I am in no way saying I didn't enjoy these three books. In fact, I found the books intriguing and ones that I couldn't put down until I reached the very last page. I wanted to know the fate of the female protagonists, and I ended up enjoying these thought provoking books. I do, however, want to discuss this trend of sexuality and objectification of women in these novels. I think it is important to look at these trends and talk about how we feel about them.
One thing interesting to note about the three titles above is that they are all types of dystopian fiction. In XVI we have a world strictly controlled by a government that doesn't care for the people and smothers free speech. In Wither not much is told about the government, but the fact that girls can be kidnapped, killed, or married off to anyone and no one seems to care tells the reader a lot. In Bumped pregnancy is a commercial business and teen girls are encouraged to have children for the good of their nation.
I have read all three of these books and I did find them to be intriguing concepts. They are books that stick with you and tend to make you more than a little uncomfortable. What is interesting in all these novels, is that while your protagonists are strong females, they are living in worlds that exploit teen girls and in some cases they may be seduced by the commercialized exploitation, and in others they choose to fight.
In XVI, Karr's protagonist Nina dreads her sixteenth birthday. She has no desire to be a sex teen and doesn't look forward to the unwelcome attention being sixteen will give her. Her only desires are to protect her younger sister and to stay out of the government run FELS program which in essence is an escort service.
In Wither, we first meet Rhine our protagonist after she has been kidnapped and put in a truck as cargo. She knows the Gatherers have been trying to kidnap girls and make them into either wives or prostitutes to the wealthy. The really unlucky ones end up dead on the roadsides. When she is chosen to be one of Linden's three wives, she longs to escape her gilded cage and find the brother she was taken from. Though she begins to like Linden she uses all of her strength and smarts to try to escape.
One of the most interesting examples of this phenomenon is Megan McCafferty's Bumped. In Bumped we actually have two protagonists Melody and her twin sister Harmony. Melody and Harmony were separated at birth. Melody was raised in a more traditional environment, while Harmony was raised in a secluded religious community (think Amish like). In their world people are only able to procreate in their teens. Once they reach adulthood, they are sterile. In Harmony's community, they marry early, usually around age 13, so they can have children. In the outside world where Melody is from, people pay teens to deliver and then give up their babies so that many couples can have children. Both Melody and Harmony, are exploited in different ways. Harmony is forced to marry some one she doesn't love so she can bear children. Melody is selling herself and her eggs to the highest bidder so that she can make money from her future pregnancy. Both of these girls are strong willed and realize that the futures before them may not be what they really want, but in a world so strict for Harmony, and a world so commercialized for Melody, when does a girl really have a say.
All three of these novels deal with women as sex objects or women or girls being exploited. My question is where is this theme coming from. Is this a result of media focusing on women and sex, or is there something else. To be honest, I don't know. I have enjoyed reading these books, but on another level have been seriously disturbed by them. I fear for women in these societies, because they have no rights, and no say over their own bodies.
For those of you that have read these books, or have noticed this trend, what do you think of it? Why are we suddenly seeing a rise in the sexual exploitation of girls in these novels? Any thoughts? Any other novels you have noticed this in?