Collins’s trilogy [The Hunger Game] is only the most visible example of a recent boom in dystopian fiction for young people. Many of these books come in series, spinning out extended narratives in intricately imagined worlds.
In Scott Westerfeld’s popular “Uglies” series, for example, all sixteen-year-olds undergo surgery to conform to a universal standard of prettiness determined by evolutionary biology; in James Dashner’s “The Maze Runner,” teen-age boys awaken, all memories of their previous lives wiped clean, in a walled compound surrounded by a monster-filled labyrinth.
The books tend to end in cliff-hangers that provoke their readers to post half-mocking protestations of agony (“SUZANNE, ARE YOU PURPOSELY TOURTURING YOUR FANS!?!?!?”) on Internet discussion boards.
Publishers have signed up dozens of similar titles in the past year or two, and, as with any thriving genre, themes and motifs get swapped around from other genres and forms. There are, or will soon be, books about teen-agers slotted into governmentally arranged professions and marriages or harvested for spare parts or genetically engineered for particular skills or brainwashed by subliminal messages embedded in music or outfitted with Internet connections in their brains.
Then, there are the post-apocalyptic scenarios in which humanity is reduced to subsistence farming or neo-feudalism, stuck in villages ruled by religious fanatics or surrounded by toxic wastelands, predatory warlords, or flesh-eating zombie hordes.
An advantage to having young readers is that most of this stuff is fresh to them. They aren’t going to sniff at a premise repurposed from an old “Twilight Zone” episode or mutter that the villain is an awful lot like the deranged preacher Robert Mitchum plays in “The Night of the Hunter.” To thrill them, a story doesn’t have to be unprecedented. It just has to be harrowing.That was just as true over half a century ago, when I read John Wyndham's Re-Birth (also known as The Chrysalids), about a post-apocalypse community in Labrador where mutant babies were killed, and any number of similar stories. (As I mention below in my piece about David Stacton, we were seriously freaked out about nuclear war in those days. That's why Ray Bradbury famously said that the SF author's job is not to predict the future, but to prevent it.)
One of my own novels, Brother Jonathan, is just such a dystopian story, but the publishers tried to market it as straight SF, and it got nowhere. Too bad.
But before you drop your current project and start brainstorming about your own dystopias, read as much of these novels as you can find. Then consider that fashions change, and what kids want to read in 2013—probably the very earliest you own dystopia might see print—may be totally different from what they're reading today.
Never follow the current trend. Follow your heart, and if the readers follow too, great. If not, that's the readers' problem.