By the time I read the third chapter of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, my 13-year-old mind had been blown and my lifelong love for futuristic dystopian novels was officially born. The brilliance with which Lowry slowly peels back the perfection of Sameness got me hooked on the genre for life.
If you’ve been hooked in the same way, rejoice! For the gods of YA Dystopian Fiction have smiled upon you. Not only are these very worthwhile novels for any age, but they are all, like The Giver, the first installment of a series. Happy reading, my voracious friends!
1. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.
Suzanne Collins said that she got the idea for The Hunger Games from channel-surfing: specifically, from footage of the Iraq war on one channel and reality TV on the next. Thus, the idea for “war as reality TV” was born. The Hunger Games is a futuristic dystopian YA novel that follows Katniss, a young woman from impoverished District 12. A skilled hunter, she volunteers to take her younger sister’s place to represent her district in the gruesome reality TV war played out each year in the Capital, of which two children from each district are obliged to participate. A classic underdog story in some respects, she exceeds the expectations of organizers, competitors, and the vapid spectators.
2. The Maze Runner, by James Dashner.
Thomas suddenly finds himself in a mysterious place. He doesn’t know where he is or why he’s there, and he has no memory of his life before that moment, either. Surrounded by other boys who arrived under the same conditions as he has, they seem to know at least a little more: that they’re in a maze. The doors to the maze open sometimes, and runners who decide to go through to find a way out are never seen again. When a girl appears for the first time with a cryptic message, things start to really get crazy.
3. Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline.
Another fantastic YA dystopian novel, Cline’s Ready Player One is set in 2044, a year so drab and depressing that the majority of citizens spend their time in virtual, rather than regular, reality. The novel follows teenager Wade, an expert gamer, on his search for the “Easter egg” that the creator of that virtual world has planted. If he finds it, he inherits the creator’s fortunes, as well as control over the game itself. As he continues his search with friends he’s picked up along the way, he finds out that it’s a bit more complicated than he’d originally thought.
4. The Unknown, by J.W. Lynne.
What are we doing? How did we get here? For the characters in Lynne’s The Unknown, those are literal, not just philosophical, questions. At the beginning of the story, eight children between the ages of nine and 17 wake up together in a bunker unsure of what they’re doing there or how they got there in the first place (sounds familiar, right?). With a fascinating ability to tell the story from different children’s perspectives in turn, the author does a brilliant job at keeping the mystery going while revealing just enough information about the “why” of everything throughout.
5. Girl of Glass, by Megan O’Russell.
Girl of Glass follows the life of 17-year-old Nola Kent, who lives in–you guessed it!–a futuristic dystopia in which the human race has been separated. The majority are trapped outside of large, glass domes to fend for themselves against the now nearly uninhabitable environment. Nola, however, lives within the glass domes and is part of the privileged class that has been tasked with preserving the human race from inside. When she encounters a child on the outside of the domes, the internal world she’s built around herself starts to show some fatal cracks.
6. Recruitment, by K.A. Riley.
The first book in the trilogy, Recruitment follows Kress, who’s been taken along with all the other 17-year-olds in her society to train and prepare for war against the Eastern Order. As she and her friends go through the training, the “why” of what they’re doing there starts to become less and less clear. Fans of riddles and puzzles will especially find a lot to love in the book, as they go through those essential parts of training along with Kress and the others. Though the beginning gets off to a slightly slow start, don’t be fooled: the ending makes the entire book well worth the reading!
7. Compliant, by M.J. Kaestli.
A somewhat different YA dystopian novel, given its slightly romantic bent, Compliant is about Freya, a girl whose life, like everyone else in her society, has been laid out in advance before her by The State. The outside world rendered uninhabitable before Freya even entered it, she lives, along with everyone else, under a dome (which very conveniently allows The State to keep an eye on everyone). At the age of 16, all are given a role to fulfill; will Freya accept what she’s been generously given, or risk it all for love?
8. The Culling, by Tricia Wentworth.
One of the longer options on this list, The Culling tells the futuristic story of Reagan, who has been chosen to compete with 50 other girls (while the males compete with 50 other boys) in order to become one-half of the presidential couple. It’s been compared to a convincing lovechild of The Hunger Games and The Bachelorette, combining the elements of competition with romance and incredibly high stakes results.
9. Red Rising, by Pierce Brown.
One of the main themes in this booklist is this: things are not always what they seem. This is especially true in Brown’s Red Rising. The main character is led to believe that he and his “caste”–the Reds–are toiling away to make the planet Mars a livable place for their children. He later finds out that Mars has actually been livable for quite some time now. After a harrowing experience, he’s recruited to infiltrate the upper caste (“the Golds,” of course). Will Darrow be able to defeat his enemies by infiltrating their ranks?