Article, Reading

‘Futuristic and Dystopian literature is always bleak in its outlook.’ How far do you agree? ~ Charlie, Year 9

This half-term, Charlie was invited to take part in the English Scholars Programme at school. She and her partner were tasked with answering this question – ‘Futuristic and Dystopian literature is always bleak in its outlook.’ How far do you agree?

Charlie chose to take on the more hopeful side of dystopian literature while her partner looked at stories that were more bleak. Charlie focused on three recent novels:

Between Sea and Sky by Nicola Penfold

Fake by Ele Fountain

The Children of Swallow Fell by Julia Green

Between Sea and Sky by Nicola Penfold

I disagree with this statement because there are numerous dystopian novels that explore a hopeful outlook, particularly ones written more recently. Readers see that society can recover from catastrophes. Between Sea and Sky is one such dystopian novel that begins with suffering and bleakness yet turns hopeful as the characters and nature find a way through.

Between Sea and Sky by Nicola Penfold is set in a post-climate change Earth where there are few plants and many rules. Nat lives in a compound block of houses where people work hard to produce food in the growing tower and fulfil Central District’s commands. They live under harsh laws with the threat of being sent away to the prison ship if they dare to break them. Out at sea, Pearl and her illegal sister, Clover, live free from Central’s rules on their oyster farm. They can swim with porpoises and discover treasures in the mudflats. However, as second children are forbidden, Pearl still worries about keeping her younger sister a secret and the whole family away from the poisoned land she believes killed her mum.

When Nat, Pearl and Clover are forced together, they share secrets of pollinators found on land. These butterflies are the one glimmer of hope towards the recovery everyone has been waiting for but if the authorities find out, they will take it all away.

Between Sea and Sky is a dystopian novel. Dystopia means an imagined society in which there is great suffering or injustice, particularly one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic. This includes stories about living in catastrophe and hardship or, alternatively, stories about recovery and coming out of times of difficulty and disaster with hope. This book fits into the dystopian genre due to the fact that it is set in a post-climate change society when the land is dry and few plants can grow. Another element to this book is Central’s rules and commands. There are very strict rules and citizens must obey- supposedly for there own good. If anyone is caught doing anything slightly wrong, they risk being sent away to the prison ship. In addition, those living in the compound must work hard for long hours in the growing tower from the age of fourteen to help keep up with Central’s demands as well as to feed themselves. This totalitarian government is typical of the dystopian genre. Between Sea and Sky is a story of loss, hardship, control and injustice but with a glimmer of hope.

This example of dystopian literature is not bleak in its outlook but hopeful. The butterflies in the book are a clear symbol of hope and recovery. Throughout the story, Nat, Pearl and Clover know it is very important to keep these pollinators safe, even when they aren’t sure why. They know they have to keep them alive and to make sure no one who might want to take them away finds out they exist. Everyone who finds out about the butterflies are initially cautious and surprised. They can’t believe that pollinators have been found in Blackwater Bay because everyone was convinced they were extinct decades before. For example, when Nat found them, he whispered, ‘Are you dangerous?’ and later ‘worrying about if the butterflies are discovered.’ When George sees them, he says, ‘Ghosts. You summoned them back’ and ‘Butterflies. Back in the Bay?’ Finally, ‘There really are pollinators then?’ Ezra says astonished’ All of these characters are bewildered and confused about the idea of butterflies being back in the bay. However, later, they say that ‘this will be new. The Recovery. Now they’ve got the butterflies as proof,’ The Recovery is the next stage of climate change when nature regenerates. Everyone is looking forward to it even though they don’t know for certain that it will ever come. The butterflies are the proof they need that it might actually happen. Throughout the story, the children have a goal and hope of better times because of these butterflies. At the end of the book, all the adults are also drawn into this hope for the recovery due to the evidence of butterflies in the bay.

Another way that Between Sea and Sky shows a hopeful outlook is the element of the sea. This is a place that is free from rules, punishments and boundaries. Pearl and Clover live on a platform in the bay with their dad, away from the hardships of land and feel at home while in the water. Additionally, most living things on the Earth at this time are in the sea such as the porpoises the girls play with and talk to. Out at sea, they are separate from everyone else and can be happy and free. When Pearl and Clover’s mum was in the hospital on land, they used to dive into the sea as soon as they got home to wash off all the dirt and poison they believed they had picked up on land. Pearl is also convinced that the sea will fix everything when her dad is injured. To them, the sea is safety and security as well as something to explore and discover. However, to those on land, the sea seems like a terrifying thing that destroys towns and life with the floods of climate change. Nat’s mum, Sora (a scientist), arrives at the oyster farm full of hope that the sea can be the answer to all of society’s problems. The sea provides hope for each character in their own way.

Pearl’s wishings are another example of hope in the midst of bleakness. When Pearl and Clover go exploring on the mudflats, they find treasures from before climate change and the floods. Later, when she wants to wish for something, Pearl draws a pentangle (5-pointed star) and places a treasure on each point to represent Earth, Fire, Water, Air and Spirit. As the tide takes them back to the sea, she sings a magical chant, thinking of those the treasure once belonged to and the wish she hopes will come true. She believes that doing this will help her wish come true although she is aware that sometimes this doesn’t happen. These wishings are an example of hope because Pearl uses them to keep faith and stay positive. Pearl puts her hope in magic and nature when she knows she can’t put it in people. She knows that she has little power on her own and hopes that nature will provide what’s best for her and the people she cares about.

Nat’s character is a strong example of hope in the face of bleakness because his personal outlook on life is positive and one of hope even when life is difficult. Nat enjoys having fun with his friends and wants to make the most of his childhood. Straight away, Nat sees the potential the butterflies have and is devoted to fixing up the greenhouse on the oyster farm. Also, Nat and his mum come to the oyster farm in the hopes to find a new food source for those on land and, while he’s there, Nat tries so hard to get Pearl to like and help him. This shows hope in the book because Nat’s personality gradually influences others to have a similar optimistic view on life.

Despite themes of hope, Between Sea and Sky does have an element of bleakness. At the beginning of the story, all the rules and laws are clearly enforced on land. There are so many rules in this society because everything belongs to and is controlled by Central District. People are told the rules are for their own good and that anything beyond the compound is dangerous when in fact, the government just want to keep control. Punishments are harsh and people live in fear. ‘We have to be careful. If you’re caught in the fields, it’s one civil disobedience point.’ Some of these rules tear families apart such as the fact that it’s illegal to have a second child. ‘Tally’s family couldn’t keep a second child […] all our hearts broke a little.’ Throughout the book, Nat, Pearl and Clover are careful to keep the butterflies a secret so they aren’t taken away by Central District and the children and their families don’t get into a lot of trouble. There is the threat of Nat’s mum being sent to the prison ship if anyone finds out. ‘Butterflies are property of Central District.’ This highlights elements of bleakness because times are hard in this society and sometimes it is difficult to always see the positives but Nat, Pearl and Clover never give up.

In conclusion, although Between Sea and Sky does have elements that make it bleak, its overall outlook is one of hope. The whole world has gone through some very hard times but now, there are signs of recovery. This book is about society trying to do all they can to come through the disasters and make things better. Hope grows through the book through the butterflies, the sea, Pearl’s wishings and Nat’s positive personality. Between Sea and Sky is a dystopian world that is coming out of the disasters it has faced with the hope of pollinators back in the bay and a positive future.

Fake by Ele Fountain

Fake by Ele Fountain is set in a future society where anti-biotics no longer work due to a Scarlett fever outbreak 20 years before. Now, something as simple as a stomach bug or grazed knee is worrying because there is nothing to prevent it getting worse or even becoming deadly. Because of this, everyone under the age of 14 must learn by online ‘live-learning’ and never mix with anyone else. There is a lot of advanced technology that everyone relies on.

14-year-old Jessica is starting ‘real-life’ boarding school for the first time and is learning to adjust to life away from her family and the strange reality of lessons with other students and teachers in the room. Jess struggles to fit in with other people in her year as her family doesn’t have as much money as others. She has a love for nature and real books rather than screens and new things. Jess experiences playing hockey outside for the first time and playing her music for other people. While a lot of people in her new school have never seen other children in person before, Jess was fortunate to have a sister, Chloe, to grow up with. However, Jess often worries about her sister because she is ill and her life-saving medication is becoming more and more expensive every few months. What would happen if it ran out?

Meanwhile, Jess has a secret. A secret that, late at night, is her escape from all her worries of school and Chloe. Jess is a hacker.

Themes of medication, illness, finances, technology, new friendships and secrets run throughout the book creating tension and worry while one of the main story lines is Jess getting used to and making the best of her ‘new normal’. Fake is a dystopian story with an underlying hope as society adjusts and tries to recover after catastrophe.

The Children of Swallow Fell by Julia Green

The Children of Swallow Fell by Julia Green is the story of 12-year-old Isabella who is forced to leave her home in Italy with her father and nothing but a carrier bag of belongings each. She must leave her mother, sister and best friend behind in a city that has become a war zone over night. They travel by train all the way to the north of England where everything is old and run-down with no electricity as if it has been deserted for years. Isabella’s dad is returning to his childhood home hoping everything will be just as he left it. However, a few years before, everyone in the village died or had to evacuate due to a disease spreading through the area. When her dad goes missing, Isabella must learn how to live off the land and fend for herself.

Every day Isabella is in England, she escapes the terrible reality by exploring the fells around the old house. The nature makes her feel free and causes her to forget everything for a time. Isabella is also one to hope. She is always hoping her dad will come back, always hoping for contact from her friends and family still in Italy. With the help of new friends, Kelda and Rowan, she learns to survive in the wild and find happiness in her new life.

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