Reading in the Land of Dystopia: 10 Tween and Teen Titles


By Noelle, Librarian Extraordinaire

You might be bewildered about how every single movie that’s aimed at teenagers right now is about some kind of dystopian future. It’s a trend that started quietly and with the tremendous success of The Hunger Games, took full flight and hasn’t come down since. Nor does it look like it will.

What does dystopia mean? Literally, from the Greek, it means “bad place to live.” It is the opposite of utopia, which, of course, means “good place to live.” In a dystopian story, the society itself is almost a character as it works against the protagonist. Most of these stories are set in the future, often after a cataclysmic event of some sort (although not always), which created the dark and gloomy society everyone now inhabits.

Take a Seat, Your Kids Aren’t Going Anywhere For a Good Long While…

Why are tweens and teens digging dystopian stories so much? On a very basic level, these plots key into exactly what a teen is about: trying to fit into society, fighting to define yourself, struggling against (what they see as) injustices. Teens and tweens often see everything as imperfect, so these novels tap right into what they are already feeling.

Dystopia has always seen popularity. Books like 1984, Farenheit 451, and Brave New World are considered classics. Films like Blade Runner, Mad Max and even The Planet of the Apes still garner cult followings or remakes. While many critics and reviewers would have predicted this phenomenon of huge dystopian hit-making series to have burst by now, it’s still going strong.

Unless you live inside a cave, you’ve probably also noticed that the movies are all based on best-selling book series. If your middle grader or teen is starting to devour these books, I’m here to give you a quick rundown of those and some other options out there once they’ve made it through the obvious choices.

The Ones You Probably Already Know:

The Giver by Lois Lowry. This 1994 Newbery Medal winner is thought of as the original kickstarter to the popularity around dystopian novels for kids and teens, although, ironically, it is about a utopian society instead. When Jonah discovers his perfectly ordered world paid a terrible price to become the way it is, he decides to attempt to change it. Made into a film for 2014 (which seems to barely resemble the plotline).  Everyone loves this thought-provoking story, which can be read by anyone ages 10 and up without worry, it is also the beginning of a series of companion books about the same “world.” Highly recommended and extremely well written.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Katniss is part of a dystopian society that is the remnants of what was America. Each year, the Districts are “reminded” of their place by having to give up two teens into the Hunger Games, a fight to the death. The first book starts with the Games but the series devolves into a revolution against the cruel society. There is a great deal of psychological trauma, bloodshed and death in these books. I know younger kids read them, but they were meant for teens ages 14 and up. All three books have been made into movies, with the first one being okay but the second film, Catching Fire, was very very good. Fans are eagerly awaiting the release of Mockingjay into two films, releasing in 2014 and 2015.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. In a half-destroyed Chicago, society has been divided into several factions. Triss chooses a different faction from the one she was raised in and faces harsh training as she learns to fight. She also uncovers a plot to overthrow the factions and government as it currently exists. The first book will propel readers into the next two, although the pace slows considerably and there is quite a bit of controversy about the final book as many didn’t like the ending. Another book filled with violence and death and some sexual tension that is meant for an older teen crowd. Divergent released to so-so reviews in 2014 as a film.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner. A boy named Thomas, with memories of nothing but his name, arrives in the Glade by freight elevator. The Glade is populated only by boys who have everything they need except a way to escape the Maze that exists behind the walls. But Thomas’s arrival signals the end of life at the Glade and the boys must navigate a way out or die trying. The rest of the series continues the “run for your life” scenario in different environments. There’s violence, blood and death in this one, too. Despite that, a slightly younger crowd could handle the majority of it. This is probably the most poorly written series with the least character development and purely lives on plot. Hence, the movie out in 2014 is probably not half-bad.

The Ones You Might Not Know…Yet

Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness. The first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, reveals a wild west type town, inhabited only by men, on a new planet. All of the women have died off (supposedly) and the men have the ability to hear what they call “Noise” but what is actually the thoughts of each other. Todd is the last boy to turn 13 in town, and he is forced to run for his life when he discovers everything he has ever known is a lie. This series is filled with moral quandries constantly being faced and tons of action. The suspense and plotline is unbelievably good and as the series continues, it is told from multiple points of view. It has less frequent violence and death than the others, but what you get is more deeply felt. The series is said to be “in development” for a film.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. This is another utopia…or is it? Everyone at the age of 16 undergoes a surgery to become “pretty.” Before that point, Tally is living in what is basically boarding school as an “ugly,” just awaiting that magical day. But when she discovers there is another society living freely in the woods who choose to stay “ugly,” she begins to learn the price of the society she’s been raised in. Also a series that is listed as “in development” for a film. Ages 12 and up would likely enjoy it.

The Selection by Keira Cass. This is about as fluffy as dystopia gets. In the future, the U.S. is gone and has turned into a monarchy that exists with a caste system. America Singer, a lowly Five, is chosen as one of the 35 contestants for the “Selection” to try and win the hand of the crown prince, Maxon. The surprise is that the storyline becomes interestingly political, as two different rebel groups keep attacking the palace and people are left purposely ignorant of any of their country’s history. Yes, it is the Bachelor Meets Dystopia, and although it doesn’t delve as deeply into the political situation as it does the competition, it is still a compelling series that readers hankering for a hunk of romance in their dystopia will eat up. A little bit of violence and nothing much else makes this a fairly “safe” dystopian series to read. Supposedly being worked into either a tv movie or tv series, but it doesn’t exist yet.

Matched by Ally Condie. In another utopia, everything is planned for you, including where you end up working and even who you love as you are “matched” using all sorts of magical computer logistics. But after Cassia sees her perfect match on screen, another face appears. They tell her it was a mistake, but Cassia has to investigate, because he is someone she knows. Once again, she discovers her perfect society is hiding a whole slew of secrets and Cassia makes the choice to buck the system. A fairly bloodless storyline makes this a gentler series for the 12 and up crowd. Also listed as “in development” for a film.

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi. In this dystopia, there are Dwellers and Outsiders. Dwellers live in safe concrete pods and spend most of their lives plugged into a virtual reality. Outsiders live a very primitive existence, hiding from the violent aether storms that can destroy anything at any time. When Aria is expelled from her pod in search of her mother, she is rescued by Outsider Perry. The two end up on a dangerous journey together. There’s a bit of romance and a bunch of bad guys running the Dweller society, as is to be expected. A somewhat “light” dystopia that the ages 10 and up crowd can probably handle. Listed as “in development” through Warner Brothers, surprise, surprise.

Legend by Marie Lu. The United States has been split into two warring factions. June is an up and coming prodigy and soldier and Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. When Day becomes the main suspect in the murder of June’s brother, June is sent to bring him down. However, they soon uncover a more sinister government plot (surprise!). There’s a bit of a Romeo & Juliet plotline as well. Also on the dystopian “light” list, as there’s plenty of action and adventure, not much bloodshed and it is quite thin on worldbuilding. Fairly safe for the 10 and up crowd. Not listed as in development for a film (yet).

Is an End in Sight?

With such a glut of stories around the same kind of topic, it is inevitable that the trend will begin to slow down as publishers begin looking for novels that are extraordinary in the genre. However, for the time being, there are more than enough imperfect worlds to go round. Might as well hop on board!

NoelleNoelle has been a children’s librarian for over 15 years. She’s also been a student teacher, worked as an online account manager, worked in a pet shop and as a supermarket checkout clerk, and as a dishwasher and fry cook. She is the proud mom of a beautiful daughter. You can read more of Noelle’s book reviews at Rave Reviews Log

Noelle can be reached at “Noelle @ DadDoes.Com”

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