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Recommended Reading: 5 Dystopian Young Adult books

Updated on May 2, 2012

1. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (series)

Tight, clean writing that's still descriptive and pulls the reader in. The characters are beautifully drawn -- so perfectly written I could picture each one, and I liked them, loved them or hated them -- but I was rarely ambivalent about them. I felt their motivations, the story moved me, and I genuinely cared about what happened next.

The best thing, in my opinion, is that the main storyline for the first book is completely wrapped up in that book -- no cliffhanger. There's an overarching storyline for the series, yes, and it's set up -- but there's no cliffhanger. Instead, the book is wrapped up and the next book is set up -- but this book could work as a standalone, if need be. If something unexpected happened (which didn't, all the other books are out), and the author couldn't finish the series, life got in the way (or death got in the way), or any number of things. The publishing industry got in the way, I don't know. I just have a serious problem with cliffhangers in a series.

Anyway, the book itself -- it's interesting. It's written from a first-person POV, which is unusual in Young Adult fiction. It's set in a futuristic North America that is now called Panem. Panem is split into 13 districts and ruled by the Capitol City. There are references to a massive disaster followed by an uprising/ rebellion, but the history of how North America became Panem isn't made clear.

Instead, we follow the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen (16) as she volunteers to take part in the Hunger Games, a deadly tournament between teenage representatives of each district. Unlike the other representatives, Katniss was not chosen by lottery or because she's a life-long fighter who has been training for the glory of the win -- Katniss volunteered to protect her sister. Through her selfless act, Katniss unintentionally sets herself up as a revolutionary figure, and in trying to save the people she loves, she challenges the life they know.

This book is the first in a series, and is followed by Catching Fire and Mockingjay. There is also a film adaptation.

Where to buy:

note: At this time (March 23, 2012) Barnes and Noble is offering a promotion wherein if you buy any Nook in-store, you get a Hunger Games book free.


2. For The Win, by Cory Doctorow

This is a great book for today's youth. It's a bit like Ender's Game, with a massive battle being fought predominantly online, but the difference is that this is a world most of us are at least tangentially familiar with. Where Ender fought aliens who threatened earth, Mala fights to unionize her gamers against exploitation by first-world corporations.

Ender was flown to a space station to train and fight; Mala and her army of "Little Sisters" fight their battles both in the internet cafe's of third world countries and in the sprawling online fantasies of MMORPG's.

This is a darkly fantastic book that is at once wildly imaginative and disturbingly realistic. It hits really close to home, utilizing technology that we're all familiar with or that seems imminently possible, and wrestling with ethical and moral questions that most of us are just barely coming to realize exist.

Where to buy:


3. Divergent, by Veronica Roth (series)

If you enjoyed The Hunger Games, you'll love this. Veronica Roth is a really talented author who's developed a unique and complete world with full-fleshed out characters. Like The Hunger Games, Divergent takes place in a futuristic society with strictly enforced social classes and morals, but that's where the similarities end.

Divergent takes place in a futuristic Chicago. I'll admit I found that odd -- Chicago is, relatively speaking, a fairly small blip in the vastness that is North America. I'm pretty sure it's nowhere near one of the top biggest cities on this continent. I found it weird that not only did the inhabitants not seem interested in traveling out of Chicago, they actually seemed fearful of it, as though outside Chicago was some sort of decimated wasteland of death. I really want to know what happened to create this situation where Chicago of all places is where society rebuilt. I'm thinking it's going to be a bit of an Uglies twist, to be honest.

Anyway, society is divided upon lines of virtue. Upon coming of age at 16, each youth within the society must choose the virtue they most identify with: Candor (honesty), Dauntless (bravery), Amity (peace), Erudite (intelligence), and Abnegation (selflessness). Each virtue class is separated from contact and interaction with the others, to the point where it's become almost a caste system -- except, rather than being born into your caste, you choose it.

The protagonist is Beatrice Prior, who was raised in the Abnegation caste. Her father is a well-respected and well-known representative within the city, so Beatrice's choice to leave and join the Dauntless caste is a shock to everyone. To make matters worse, her brother has also chosen to leave his family, opting for the Erudite caste. The defection of both the Prior children provides opportunity for political dissenters to cast doubt on their father's character and the Abnegation caste as a whole.

This is a planned series, with Divergent being the first book. We follow Beatrice as she makes the decision to leave the Abnegation caste, through her growth and character development as a member of the Dauntless caste, and into battle as she discovers a fomenting rebellion from the most unlikely of quarters. It's a well written, fast-paced, and thoroughly enjoyable book, and I look forward to the rest of the series.

Where to buy:


4. The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan (series)

In this zombie apocalypse, hordes of the undead randomly wander the earth, and society has rebuilt behind high walls and double-rows of fencing. This is not surviving the zombie apocalypse; this is generations after the zombie apocalypse, and living with the reality of the walking dead.

Our protagonist, Mary, lives in the middle of a massive forest in a village ruled by the Sisterhood. Strict rules dictate her day-to-day existence; rules meant to ensure the safety of her society. Any travel outside the village is undertaken by a series of fenced and roofed paths that wind on in a seemingly endless pattern of connected gateways.

Mary's routine existence is disturbed by her growing questions and concerns about the Sisterhood and the 'truths' she has always been told. Her doubts and questions are brought to bear when zombies manage to break past the barriers and infiltrate her village, and she must choose between staying with what she knows or venturing onto the paths and into the unknown.

This book has a great concept and is very well written. Ryan's voice is melancholy and atmospheric, and she has some really stunningly great imagery in there. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is the first of a series, with 3 books released thus far.

Where to buy:


5. Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld

Uglies follows the protagonist, Tally, and her best friend as they come of age in a world that focuses more on beauty than work ethic, and no-one seems to mind. Even Tally doesn't question her world, initially, but is forced into asking uncomfortable questions by her closest friends. It's an extremely thought-provoking look at one potential outcome of our current societal trends.

The series raises several questions -- what is the image of beauty idealized by this culture? It's not our image of beauty, so how did they come by it? If beauty is transient and not a universal truth, then what is beauty? Isn't trying to equalize everyone by making everyone equally beautiful a form of inequality in and of itself?

These are the types of questions (among others) the author obviously wanted to raise. Along with questions of free will, popularity, indoctrination, betrayal, friendship and young love, Uglies examines several issues of visceral and immediate importance to the average teenager, yet this book is well-written and never heavy-handed. In fact, it's fun, engaging and very interesting. It's the first of a series, and (to be honest), I really felt the series as a whole picked up pace with Pretties.

Where to buy:

A note

The books are all available at the stores listed, but I could not always link through to the Amazon page, because it was overly promotional. Since the hub is cannot be tagged as overly promotional for B&N I just left those ones up, but took down a few of the Amazon links. I did have Google Play linked through, but I just learned that is also a hub violation.

That said, these books are all available at all these websites. I have no doubt these books are also each available through the Apple i-tunes store, as well, but I run a Linux OS and just don't want to deal with the incompatibility of Apple on my computer, so I can't 100% verify that one.

I just genuinely enjoyed these books. I don't know the authors and I haven't been asked to promote them -- they're just really great books, in my opinion.


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      5 years ago

      I love this list (especially when you mentioned three of my well-loved books!).


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