The Shape of Punk to Come

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (2009) SteamPunk at its finest.

As a teenager, I went through a punk rock evolution of sorts. Like most teens, I grew up listening to my parents’ music, which as a kid was mostly good ol’ country and pop-country. I remember very clearly how my first CD my parents ever bought me was a Garth Brooks greatest hits album. (Admittedly, I still really do enjoy some GB from time to time.) I quickly found myself disinterested in country music. It wasn’t loud or angry enough for my teenage angst, and very quickly I rebelled against my parents music and found solace (oxymoron?) in alternative punk rock music. It started with one of my friends introducing me to Green Day’s “Dookie” album and The Offspring’s “Ixnay on the Hombre.” Later, I found myself listening to more core punk music like Pennywise, Guttermouth, The Descendants, and Rancid. My music world had changed forever. My parents weren’t always happy about my music selection, but as long as I was doing decent in school and staying out of trouble, what could they say?

The point of punk rock music is its innate ability to bring about rebellion. None of us like to be told what to do, especially when you’re fifteen years old, so punk music is a perfect outlet for many young adults. Punk taught me to question the status quo, and I’m truly thankful for that. But I’m not really writing this about punk rock music. No, instead this piece is all about a new type of punk that can’t be found in a record store. This punk can only be found in the pages of a book.

Gasp! I know someone reading this who loves punk music but hates to read may be thrown off by this development, but the truth is that there is a generation of Young Adult Literature (YAL) authors who grew up in the punk rock scene and have developed a written rebellion all their own. A rebellion that is changing the game in YAL. With publication and film production of Stephanie Meyers Twilight series, some might believe that the vampire/werewolf craze is still the core of YAL. To a degree that is still true, but a series of new genres are starting to step to the forefront. They are labeled as “punk” books, each uniquely crafted to show teenage rebellion in vastly different forms. Loud teenage angst isn’t just for music anymore.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (2008). One of the first YAL CyberPunks.

One of the latest developments in YAL is the emergence of SteamPunk. At the end of Scott Westerfeld’s (Uglies, Pretties) Leviathan (2009) novel, he states the nature of Steam Punk is “blending future and past.” Often times, these books take place in a historical setting (Leviathan takes place at the beginning of WWI), and blends in future technology that didn’t exist then or in many cases still don’t exist. The term “steam” comes from the fact that since these books take place in the past, the future machines presented in the text are often times run by steam power. Still, the core of these stories are the teenage protagonists who are constantly rebelling against social order, expectations, and restrictions; thus, a wonderful “punk” undertone.

There are two other YAL “punks” that have become popular as well–CyberPunk and BioPunk. Both genres focus on exactly what you might think. CyberPunk is teenage rebellion in the cyber world, namely using story lines about hackers, computer geeks, programmers, and cyber terrorism. One of the most popular of the CyberPunk books is Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (2008), which has recently been optioned to appear on the big screen soon. BioPunk usually takes place in a disturbing future, where bioengineering, cloning, and genetics play a major role in a usually dystopian society. Neal Shusterman’s Unwind (2007) is a perfect example. In Shusterman’s disturbing tale, there has been a new “Bill of Life” that has stopped abortion in America altogether, which is a good thing right? Well, the compromise the country has come up with to satisfy both pro-life and pro-choice proponents is that when a child turns thirteen, the child’s parent can choose to have the child unwound. Unwinding is as disturbing as it sounds. If a kid is chosen to be unwound, he or she doesn’t “die.” The kid is kept alive as his or her organs are harvested and then transplanted to others in need of their “parts:” thus, no one dies, so no one has broken the Bill of Life. The idea is that the kid goes on living through their donor recipients. Pretty messed up, huh?

Unwind by Neil Shusterman (2007). An example of BioPunk.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading all three books I’ve mentioned above, and all of them are worth reading. I read more YAL now than I do my “adult” books for two reasons. One, I like knowing what my students are reading and what they’re interested in. Two, I LOVE these stories too. As a former punk rocker myself, these stories are right up my alley, but I’d venture to say that they would fit almost anyone’s interests. These stories are fascinating, disturbing, and uniquely astute in their observations of human nature.

So, if you’ve never been much into the punk scene yourself, it might be time to dye that hair pink and shave it into a mohawk-OR-you could just pick up one of these books and read about punk, teenage rebellion from the comfort of your favorite Lay-Z-Boy chair. Decisions, decisions.

Happy Reading!

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