The Utopian World is prevalent in children’s literature, known by various names as listed here.

Move into YA, and the top end of MG, and you will encounter The Apparent Utopia. As depicted so clearly in the opening scene to the Netflix series Riverdale, the apparent utopia looks beautiful to the tourist or to the casual observer but awful things are happening just beneath the surface.


Aside from small towns next to lakes and forests, suburbia is a common choice for the ‘apparent utopia’.

“They taught us at Barnard about that word, ‘utopia’. The Greeks had two meaning for it: ‘eu-topos’, meaning the good place, and ‘u-topos’ meaning the place that cannot be.”

— Rachel Menken, Mad Men, season one, episode 6, “Babylon.”

Mad Men, of course, is an apparent utopia, set partly in Manhattan, partly in the suburbs where Don Draper has bought a big family home. Matthew Weiner was influenced by John Cheever when he wrote Mad Men; many of Cheever’s short stories are an apparent utopia.

Other apparent utopias:

  • American Beauty, the movie
  • L.A. Confidential, the opening
  • Blue Velvet, again in the opening
  • Broadchurch, the British TV series
  • Tales From Outer Suburbia, the picture/coffee table book by Shaun Tan
  • Courage The Cowardly Dog, a horror/comedy TV cartoon series
  • Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
  • Pretty Little Liars, based on a series of YA books, marketed as Desperate Housewives For Teens. Interestingly, when adapted for TV, Pretty Little Liars makes use of many of the same landmarks as Gilmore girls, because they are both filmed in California at the same place.

are you there god it's me margaret apparent utopia

Like Margaret Simon, I was an only child suspicious of suburban idyll. I consumed the book, as I would go on, in my 20s, to consume anything by Richard Yates or John Cheever, seeking assurances that a lawn was a poor means of generating certain existential satisfactions. The novel [Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret] begins with its heroine forced to leave Manhattan, with all of its enrichments, when her parents decide to move to the suburbs (for all of the reasons parents have always decided to move to the suburbs). “Please help me God,” Margaret implores. “Don’t let New Jersey be too horrible.”

Ginia Bellafante, NYT


Besides slavery and dystopia, freedom and utopia, there is one other kind of world you can create for the beginning or end of your story: the apparent utopia. This world appears to be perfect, but the perfection is only skin deep. Below the surface, the world is actually corrupt, rotten, and enslaving. Everyone is desperate to put on a good face to hide a psychological or moral disaster. The suburbs are often an apparent utopia, with their manicured lawns and friendly neighbours, but in stories there is usually something terrible going on in the suburbs.

— John Truby, Anatomy of Story

an advertisement for Metropolitan Life Insurance from 1958

an advertisement for Metropolitan Life Insurance from 1958. The greyscale with red palette makes it seem creepy even when it doesn’t mean to be.

This illustration by Ji-hyuk Kim conveys both the safety and excitement of the suburbs at night.


Stepford Suburbia from TV Tropes