In one sudden moment, everyone over the age of 15 disappears. With no adults and no answers, those left behind must learn to survive – but while some try to help, others are only out for themselves and will do anything they can to obtain power. Can children build a society by themselves, and will they ever figure out what happened to all the adults? Although not strictly dystopian fiction, much like The Hunger Games Grant’s novel explores the struggle for survival, and how we discover our own strengths and weaknesses when the world around us falls apart.
Set in an alternate present-day America with a totalitarian government that treats love like a disease – amor deliria nervosa, to be precise – Delirium is fiction at its most dystopic. Protagonist Lena is about to turn 18, the age when everybody gets treated with a permanent cure for love when she meets Alex, a man who lives outside the borders after having refused treatment. Can they be together in a world that doesn’t let people fall in love? The first instalment of this popular series is followed by Pandemonium and Requiem.
In a world divided by blood – where the red-blooded are commoners and the silver-blooded are a privileged elite with supernatural powers – seventeen-year-old Red girl Mare Barrow knows her place in society. But when she starts working at the Silver Palace, she discovers that she possesses her own deadly power; scared of this, the Silvers declare her a long-lost princess and disguise her as one of their own. Just as Katniss Everdeen tries to bring down The Capitol, Mare secretly joins a resistance group to bring down the powers that be. Published last year, Red Queen has already been a massive YA hit and the sequel, Glass Sword, has just been released.
Delving deeper into the politics that The Hunger Games touches upon, this 1964 sci-fi novel shows the power of government and how the media can be used to control and pacify the masses. Following World War III, humanity is forced to live underground for their own protection, due to the nuclear waste and unknown enemies that exist above ground. But things aren’t necessarily as they seem – the war actually ended years ago and the East and West are now at peace. In reality, an elite few keep the hoax going through daily ‘broadcasts,’ so that they can live in ultimate luxury. See also Hugh Howey’s Wool trilogy, based on a similar concept but using more modern language.
The first in a four-part series by Marissa Meyer, Cinder is loosely based on the Cinderella fairy-tale. Very loosely, in fact; yes, there are princes and an evil queen, but don’t go expecting any damsels in distress here – much like Katniss Everdeen, the heroines in this story are independent ladies with jobs as hackers and mechanics. One such girl is Cinder, a talented mechanic who also happens to be a cyborg. When she becomes involved with Prince Kai, she finds herself at the centre of a violent intergalactic struggle. With Earth’s fate hinging on her, will she be able to protect it?
Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy opens by introducing us to a bizarre world where the air is filled with the sound of everybody’s thoughts. After all the females on New World were killed by the Noise germ, Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men – he can hear their every thought, and they can hear his. Just weeks before he is due to become a man himself, Todd flees with his dog and comes across the strangest creature of all: a girl. And what’s more, she is silent. This clever trilogy will have you hooked until the very end, and it’s just right for today’s information-overloaded teens.
Are you a fan of feisty heroines? You’ll love Sarah J. Maas’ Celaena Sardothien; this eighteen-year-old assassin is called out by the Crown Prince Dorian to act as his champion in a battle to find a new royal assassin. Competing against male assassins and warriors from across the Empire, she must win if she wants to serve the kingdom and earn her freedom from hard labour. But when the other contestants start getting killed off, can she work out who the real killer is? The award-winning first instalment of the Throne of Glass series is followed by three more books, with a fifth due for release this year.
The fictional nation of Ravka has been ravaged by the Shadow Fold – an almost impenetrable darkness teaming with monsters who feed on human flesh. The only chance it has of surviving rests on the shoulders of Alina Starkov, a refugee who has never been good at anything – that is, until she discovers a hidden power that could set her country free. Before she knows it, she is taken to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha. This first book of Bardugo’s intriguing fantasy-adventure trilogy became a New York Times bestseller – check it out for yourself and see if you can see why!
Although set in a futuristic sci-fi world, many of the issues dealt with in Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series are faced by today’s young people: growing up, managing friendships, figuring out who you are and accepting the way you look. In this world, at the age of 16 everyone undergoes extreme plastic surgery to turn them from an ‘Ugly’ into a ‘Pretty’. But this goes deeper than just looks; as well as your physical appearance, the surgery alters your very mind and forces you into conformity and obedience. Tally Youngblood can’t wait to have her surgery – until she meets a group of rebels who have an entirely different perspective on what it means to be beautiful.
This is another sci-fi book that explores humanity’s obsession with power. George Orr discovers that he has the unusual and dangerous ability to dream things into being, but after trying to prevent the dreams by misusing drugs and being threatened with a stay in an asylum, he seeks the help of a therapist. But he soon learns that not everyone can be trusted as this individual has his own plans for George and his ability to alter reality. Published in 1971, this novel is actually set in the year 2002 – which at the time of course seemed a long way into the future!
This hard-edged romantic adventure is also set in a dystopian future, 300 years after a major catastrophe destroys the earth. Seventeen-year-old Aria is exiled from Reverie, the protected domed city, in an act of punishment that means almost certain death. Outside of the pods, the wasteland is filled with storms and cannibals; searching for her mother, she meets an outsider called Perry who is looking for someone too – they could be each other’s best chance at finding answers, if only they can survive…
Another strong, young heroine – Tris Prior – features in Veronica Roth’s Divergent series in which society is split into five factions. Each faction values a different quality; truth, intelligence, bravery, kindness and selflessness, and at sixteen each individual must choose a faction to live with. But after Tris leaves her family to move to a new faction at the choosing ceremony, she falls headfirst into a world of deception and conflict as she realises the faction system isn’t what it seems.
We couldn’t write a list of recommended dystopian fiction without including George Orwell’s absolute classic, 1984. The oldest book on our list, this was published in 1949 and is still regarded as the most influential novel about totalitarian power and control. It even introduced the adjective Orwellian – which describes hidden surveillance, official deception and the manipulation of recorded history by an authoritarian state. The story is focused through the life of Winston Smith, whose job it is to edit and re-write history at the Ministry of Truth, according to the constantly-changing party line.