The dystopian genre poses the kind of haunting questions that make us pause and ask, “What if…?” Veronica Roth’s Divergent is gripping because it highlights our tendency to label one another according to our personality traits. What if we were asked to identify with just one virtue? Bravery, selflessness, honesty, intelligence, kindness? Our brave and selfless heroine Beatrice “Tris” Prior proves that we can, and should, be more than one thing. If you’re looking for more thought-provoking plots and dynamic characters, here is a list of Young Adult dystopian novels that pose equally interesting questions and give us readers permission to examine ourselves for the answers.
1. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Jonas looks forward to the Ceremony of Twelve, in which he will be given his “life assignment” and career by the Elders of his community. But Jonas is different, and he receives a peculiar assignment—he has been chosen as the next Receiver of Memory, a role of great importance but shrouded in mystery. He is to be trained by the current receiver, the Giver, who will transfer his memories to Jonas for preservation. Their community is a fragile utopia in which they have suppressed emotion to live safe, controlled lives. Like Tris in Divergent, Jonas is raised to believe that his community knows best and that their way of life protects them from the harmful consequences of freedom and choice. Lois Lowry gives us a beautiful coming-of-age tale as Jonas discovers what it means to love, to feel pain, and to see color.
2. The Darkest Minds, by Alexandra Bracken
In a futuristic America, Ruby is one of the few children who survived the mysterious illness that swept across the country when she was 10. But she and the other survivors have developed dangerous, unnatural abilities. Like the divergents, children are hunted for their strange powers and sent to government “rehabilitation camps.” We join Ruby as she escapes the camp and embarks on a dangerous road trip with a ragtag crew in search of a safe haven called East River. While The Darkest Minds paints a grim fate for teens like Ruby, it’s also a story about friendship and self-acceptance. Alexandra Bracken gives readers a band of unlikely heroes to root for who stand up in the face of a corrupt society.
3. The Maze Runner, by James Dashner
Thomas wakes up in an elevator with no memory of who he is or how he got there. He is the most recent arrival to the Glade, a large square courtyard home to a group of boys with missing memories. The Glade is surrounded by an impenetrable maze—it seems the maze is the only way out, but nobody has yet survived it. At night, the maze is home to monsters the boys have dubbed “Grievers.” As Thomas adjusts to this new life, he volunteers to be a “Runner,” one of the chosen few who venture into the maze each day seeking a way out. The Maze Runner is another action-packed dystopian adventure about survival. Every day for Thomas and the gang is like Dauntless initiation. Readers are as desperate for answers as Thomas, not only about his past but to understand the purpose of the deadly maze that traps them.
4. Matched, by Ally Condie
Cassia approaches her Matching ceremony with confidence that the Society has chosen the best husband for her. When her best friend Xander’s face appears on the screen, she is content with the match. That is, until the face of another boy—Ky Markham—flashes on the screen for just a split second, leaving Cassia to doubt whether Xander is the perfect match she’d believed him to be. As she finds herself drawn to Ky, she begins to question everything she has previously taken for granted. Like Tris in Divergent, Cassia must tread carefully as she falls in love and subsequently unravels the Society’s lies. Ally Condie’s seemingly “utopian” society is similar to Divergent’s uncompromising city governed by its factions.
5. The Host, by Stephenie Meyer
Melanie was on the run with Jamie, her brother, and Jared, the man she loves. When they’re separated, she’s caught by the alien species that have taken over her planet. Against her will, Melanie becomes a human host for a “soul” called Wanderer who will take over her mind and body. But Melanie fights back—though she may no longer be in control of her limbs, she refuses to allow Wanderer, or “Wanda,” to take over her mind. As Wanda and Melanie share a body, they form an unlikely friendship and decide to escape the dull, unfulfilling life of the souls in search of the two men Melanie loves most. The Host is another dystopian tale that explores what it means to be “human,” and the true nature of love.
6. Legend, by Marie Lu
June and Day lead very different lives in the Republic, a nation that was formerly the western United States and is perpetually at war with the other half of the divided country. Like the Aptitude test in Divergent, teens in the Republic must pass the “Trials” to determine their careers. While June has a bright future in the military, Day failed his Trial and is now a rebel who strikes against the Republic and the government that June serves. She vows to bring him to justice when her brother is murdered and Day is the prime suspect. But there is more to her brother’s murder than meets the eye, and Day might be the person to help June uncover the truth. June is a determined heroine who shares Tris’ bravery and fearlessness. Readers who loved the romantic tension between Tris and Four will appreciate the push and pull between June and Day.
7. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Katniss Everdeen lives in the poorest district of Panem, where her life is devoted to providing for her mother and sister. The districts answer to the Capitol, led by the cruel and merciless President Snow. Every year, a boy and girl from each district are chosen in a lottery to compete in the “Hunger Games,” a televised fight to the death which is meant to reinforce the Capitol’s dominance. When Katniss’ younger sister Prim is chosen as a tribute for District Twelve, Katniss volunteers to take her place in the Games. We follow Katniss into the arena as she fights for a chance at survival. Like Tris, Katniss quickly proves herself as a worthy contender, winning herself both allies and dangerous enemies as she unintentionally subverts the efforts of the Capitol. Collins’ dystopian Hunger Games is a morbidly entertaining read about class division, survival, and hope.
8. Delirium, by Lauren Oliver
As she approaches her eighteenth birthday, Lena is ready to receive the “Cure,” a procedure that will cure her of the dangerous disease that is love. She is no stranger to the consequences of love, as her mother committed suicide and left Lena to the guardianship of her aunt and uncle. Lena trusts that her government is only protecting her. That is until she meets Alex, a boy from the Wilds who lives freely and shows Lena a new way of life. In Delirium, to experience “love” is like being labeled “divergent,” a dangerous rebellion that threatens the fragile peace of their society. Lauren Oliver’s dystopian novel begs the question, what would it be like to live in a world without love?