Like dystopias? You know, books like 1984 by George Orwell, Children of Men by PD James, or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Did you know there are some great young adult options as well?
NOTE: Please be advised that these dystopias are listed for young adults ages 12 and up. They are not children’s stories and I believe many of these novels would be a bit much for the average elementary school kid.
That said, here are a few of my faves, in order of publication.
Fahrenheit 451, 1953, Ray Bradbury
This classic is set in an unspecified future year when firemen have been repurposed as book burners. The society has determined that these ancient tomes pose imminent danger and must be destroyed at all costs. Fireman Guy Montag has begun to question the ethics of his job when he witnesses how people who have books are willing to die to protect them. His wife, Mildred, is unconcerned at first, due in great part to her obsession with their parlor screens–wall-size televisions whose content captivates audiences.
PAUSE. Wall-size televisions and reduced interest in books? Yeah, it’s a little eerie. Plus there’s a mechanical hound that will scare the battery life out of your Roomba!
Montag connects with others who have recognized–or never questioned–the value of books. He joins their efforts to save the intellectual integrity of society. However, his new allegiances could cost him everything.
This early contribution to the genre is a must read for those who enjoy dystopian novels. If, per chance, you are a bit of a pyromaniac, add the book Nothing to See Here, 2019, by Kevin Wilson. It’s not a dystopia, but it’s pretty bizarre and one I think fans of the genre would enjoy.
The Giver, 1993 Lois Lowry
Most of these dystopias will not show up in an elementary school classroom as they are written to a higher reading level. Not true of this one. It is listed for ages 10 and up, but is regularly recommended to kids who are younger advanced readers. I literally prevented my very sensitive and impressional nine year old from finishing the book after I read ahead of her and uncovered some violent content I knew she could not handle. Having learned the hard way, I encourage you to read it before your children do, especially if they are particularly empathetic and compassionate.
Having offered you that warning, I definitely recommend this book. Lois Lowry’s writing makes you feel as if you’re viewing moving pictures not reading static words. It’s deep and compelling and vivid. In fact, part of the reason it could be damaging to an overly sensitive kid is Lowry’s skill; she is such a good writer that her word pictures come to life. It’s riveting.
The protagonist, 12-year-old Jonas, lives in an idyllic community where life is highly controlled by the infallible Elders. When children turn 12, they are given their life’s work assignment; but Jonas’ assignment is different than all the rest. Isolated and confused and becoming more enlightened by the day, Jonas faces tough decisions that will change his life forever.
The City of Ember, 2003, Jeanne DuPrau
Before the beginning of any of its citizens’ memories, the city of Ember was created by the Builders to be a safe haven for a dying world. Hundreds of years later, the city is crumbling and if they don’t do something soon, the generator will stop working, the food stores will run out, and the people of Ember will be facing certain death.
Then two kids, Lina (pronounced line-uh) and her friend Doon find the document that can save them all. They decide to save their city, focusing on the task as if their lives depended on their success.
City of Ember is part of a trilogy (People of Sparks, Diamond of the Darkhold) with a prequel (Prophet of Yonwood). I enjoyed each of these, though People of Sparks is actually my favorite one. You have to read Ember first, just be sure to have Sparks ready to pick up when you’re done!
Hunger Games, 2008, Suzanne Collins,
Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy is one of the best examples ever of a dystopian society. By the way, if you’re going to tackle Hunger Games, get all three books. You’ll want to open the next one the minute you reach the end of the previous one.
It’s sometime in the indistinct future and sixteen-year-0ld Katniss Everdeen has been chosen, but not in a good way. Actually, her 12-year-old sister, Primrose, is the one chosen; Katniss volunteers to go in her place to protect Primrose from the horrors she herself is about to face. After all, the Hunger Games arena is no place for a child; ironically, children ages 12-18 are the only ones eligible to play in this elaborate gladiator-style competition.
Panem, a country in North America, is made up of 13 districts that are subject to the wealthy Capitol. By the time we meet Katniss, the 13th district seems to have vanished. The other 12 are forced each year to participate in the Hunger Games by supplying two players: one boy and one girl. Capitol residents, particularly the leadership of Panam, delight in the televised Games, watching children from the lesser districts–who they call tributes–fight to the death.
Katniss has an ally in the arena in her fellow district tribute Peeta. Peeta and Katniss join in an effort to survive their hideous fate. But can they outwit the Capitol? And at what cost?
This trilogy ropes you in quick and dangles you by a thin thread with the passing of each chapter. I loved each of the books, but I would argue that they do not stand alone. Read it as one long saga. Incidentally, the prequel? Disliked it so much I couldn’t finish it. What did you think of it? Tell me in the comments!
Proxy, 2013, Alex London
Syd and Knox are inexorably connected, even if Syd would much prefer they were not. Their relationship is defined by the system governing them: Knox is a rich kid with endless privileges called a Patron, and Syd, a Proxy, is a poor kid whose duty it is to take all punishments and consequences for Knox. Knox never thinks about Syd; Syd never stops thinking about Knox. Finally, Syd is on the verge of completing his obligation to Knox; but just then the spoiled Patron has a car wreck that costs someone her life. Because of the Proxy system, it’s Syd’s debt to pay, not Knox’s.
The two meet and come up with a plan to save both of them. The question is, will it work? And if it does, can they accomplish it in time?
I loved Proxy for the metaphor it provides of injustice in today’s world. Privileged people continue to get good breaks and advantages while the poor suffer consequences for situations outside their control.
Alex London has three other books in the Proxy series–sort of. They include the 2014 sequel, Guardian; a short prequel, Punishment: a Proxy Story; and Daydreamer: A Proxy Short Story which concludes the series. Those are on my to-read list.
Unlike the ones listed above, Divergent (Veronica Roth) and its sequels did not impress me. Can you convince me to give it another chance in the comments? What did I miss? Let me know below so I can put it in my queue.