Friday, July 6, 2012

Best Dystopian Novels For Teens (YA and Literary)

It seems like the world is hooked on dystopias. Authors are pumping out novels hoping to match the success of bestsellers like the Hunger Games trilogy which boast fans all around the world. And teens make up a significant portion of those fans. This can be explained by the decreased average age of the protagonists, the fact that the romance is becoming more PG in nature, and the fact that the issues touched upon (plastic surgery, reality television, etc.) are becoming more relevant to the younger generation. This is why I now see a new title on the "New Releases" bookshelf at my bookstore almost every week!

Not that I'm complaining. I am quite the fan of dystopian fiction myself. Dystopian novels address issues in society in ways that actually invoke emotional responses from the target audience and promote discussion. These novels are thought-provoking and bring up new ideas, unintended consequences as well as critiques of the ways things are currently done. As a girl living a fairly privileged life as are many others, I am fascinated by the very things I do not know, things like environmental collapse, totalitarian government, internecine warfare. And recently, this fascination has caused me to go on a "dystopian fiction binge", where I basically read almost every dystopian novel known to humankind.

Here are a few of my favorites in no particular order.    

1984 by George Orwell
It is 1984 and Oceania (modern day London) is ruled by a single party, The Party. Big Brother is the omnipresent leader. Any degree of dissent against party beliefs is quashed and suspected rebels are made to "disappear". Winston Smith is a government worker who beings to harbor thoughts of rebellion against The Party and Big Brother. He also begins a forbidden relationship with a woman named Julia even though intimacy is forbidden. Will Winston escape this totalitarian government or will he suffer the consequences of defying Party in the worst way possible? This novel explores themes like censorship and privacy and explores the consequences of a government with too much power. This book really affected me. It is so thought-provoking and ground-breaking and you need to read this!

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games Trilogy #1)
Do I really need to summarize this? This book takes place in post apocalyptic North America, now called Panem which is divided into twelve districts and the Capitol. The evil Capitol implemented the Hunger Games, where one girl and one boy between 12-18 from each district fight to the death in an arena until there is one victor. Katniss Everdeen, from District 12 (also the poorest district) volunteers as a tribute after her little sister is selected. Katniss explores her feelings for fellow D12 tribute Peeta and tries to stay alive, while inadvertently sparking a revolution. The premise is really interesting and the action never stops, incorporating action, violence, romance and politics in one teen-friendly package.  Katniss is also one of the strongest characters I have seen in a YA novel.

Divergent by Veronica Roth (Divergent Trilogy #1)Divergent takes place in Dystopian Chicago, where society is split into five factions, Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Erudite (the intelligent), Dauntless (the brave) and Abnegation (the selfless).  At the age of 16 one may choose to switch factions or stay in the one they were born into.  Beatrice "Tris" Prior has been brought up in Abnegation her whole life but doesn't feel like she fits in.  It is revealed that she is divergent, equally suited to Abnegation, Erudite and Dauntless.  She chooses Dauntless.  Before she can become a full member, she needs to pass initiation, a series of physically and mentally brutal tasks.  Along the way, she makes friends and enemies and develops a crush on Four, a Dauntless instructor.  But that is the least of her troubles as tensions are brewing between the different factions, threatening to start a war.  Tris soon discovers that she may be the only one who can stop it.  The writing is engaging and I was never bored.  Roth does an amazing job of setting up this complex and interesting world.  

Unwind by Neal Shusterman (Unwind Trilogy #1)
This is definitely one of the most underrated YA dystopian novels out there.  Unwind takes place in a future society where a compromise over abortion was made; parents may elect to have their kids from the ages 13-18 years "unwound", when their organs and body parts are harvested to be donated.  Technically, the unwound children do not die since their individual parts are still alive.  Connor, Risa and Lev are all scheduled to be wound for differing reasons and by chance, they find each other and try to escape.  On the way, they encounter friends, enemies and traitors as well as dangerous situations.  But together, they may just survive.  This novel was shocking and disturbing (one scene in particular was a little hard to get through).  I loved how it brought up relevant issues like overpopulation, abortion and the sanctity of life.  The book is told in different points of views and each character is well developed with a unique background.  Definitely check this book out!    

Delirium by Lauren Oliver (Delirium #1)
In this world, love is a disease called delirium.  Children are taught the dangers of delirium from a very young age.  At 18, one can recieve the Cure and have a spouse assigned to them.  Magdalena "Lena" Haloway, deathly afraid of the delirium, is excited to be Cured.  That is, until she falls in love with Alex, an Invalid living outside the city who had escaped the cure.  Lena's feelings on love change and she starts to question all that she's been taught.  Being a story about love, the relationship between Lena and Alex is at the foreground of all that is happening.  It's kind of similar to Uglies by Scott Westerfield.  An issue I usually have with dystopian novels is believability and I did not have such a problem with this one.  At the beginning of each chapter, Oliver gives the reader peeks into Lena's world quotes from scientific articles, religious texts and even nursery rhymes that all demonstrate how paranoid everyone is about delirium.  Delirium is also very emotional.  This well written book is worth the read!

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
With the help of advanced genetic technology and conditioning, World State is happy and most importantly, stable. Natural reproduction is forbidden, with humans being grown in labs. Humans are divided into castes, Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons. Embryos in the lower castes are interfered with during development, stunting growth and lowering IQ to ensure that they will fit the menial jobs they will inevitably spend their lives doing. Children are conditioned from a very young age to accept certain beliefs. In this way, everybody is happy with the way their lives are. Or are they? Bernard Marx feels like an outcast and longs for his freedom. After making a trip to the Savage reservation, a place where the previous way of life still thrives, Marx brings a special visitor back which may change everything. This novel brings up many philosophical questions about true happiness versus contentment, about whether knowledge is enlightenment or a merely a burden. It may be a little harder to read for some teens but it is completely worth it.       
The Maze Runner by James Dashner (Maze Runner Trilogy #1) 
The book starts off with Thomas waking up in an empty elevator called the Box.  He has no memories of what happened and where he came from, only his first name.  He finds that he is now in a large enclosed area called the Glade with many other boys and that every 30 days, a new kid is delivered in the box.  The Glade is surrounded by a giant maze.  At the beginning of every day, the doors to the maze open and that's when the appointed "mazerunners" explore and map out the maze.  Every night the doors are closed, and monsters called Grievers come out.  The kids are trying to figure out the maze, hoping it will lead to answers and their freedom.  When a girl appears in the Box days after Thomas, she brings a message.  Everything is about to change and Thomas is a huge part of it.  This book had a very gripping plot that kept me reading.  I really wanted to find out what the mystery behind the maze was.  Dashner delivered suspense and intrigue, making this novel very enjoyable to read!

Well there you go!  Happy reading!



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