Brave New Books: New Dystopian YA Novels to Pair with Old Favorites

I may write upbeat books for middle grade readers, but I have a dark secret…  I’m a sucker for a great dystopian novel.  Bring on the floods, the repressive governments, the book burning, the horrifying reality TV, and you’ll have me up reading long past bedtime.  I’ve been delighted by the fantastic array of new dystopian novels that have hit bookstore shelves lately and jumped at the chance to talk about some in today’s Share a Story-Shape a Future blog event, hosted by teacher-author Donalyn Miller at The Book Whisperer. 

In addition to writing, I teach middle school English, and I include a unit on dystopian literature that includes some favorite short stories like Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” and Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron.”  Lately,  I’ve also been having my students read dystopian novels in literature circles and drawing comparisons between those and the classic short stories.  Here are a few of my recent favorites for middle school and up.

 THE HUNGER GAMES, CATCHING FIRE, and (in August 2010) MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins

Okay, so you already know about these, but I couldn’t leave them out because they’re my go-to books for 7th grade readers who want something fast-paced and compelling. Book club and discussion topics include reality TV, violence in American culture, and love vs. survival. Alongside this trilogy, an ambitious literature circles group might also want to read and discuss…

 GIRL IN THE ARENA by Lise Haines

Set in an alternative reality in Boston, this novel is about a society in which gladiator-style arena fighting has become a national form of entertainment.  The main character has been the daughter of seven gladiators, and when her last stepfather dies in the arena, she’s faced with a harrowing choice. This one will prompt great discussions about women and violence in society.  It’s excellent.


This post-apocalyptic trilogy explores what happens after an asteroid hits the moon, knocking it out of orbit enough to cause widespread problems with the tides, weather, shortages, and illness. For an interesting discussion, pair these with Stephen Vincent Benet’s “By the Waters of Babylon.”  High school readers might also read this trilogy alongside Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD.

CANDOR by Pam Bachorz

Inspired by the model town of Celebration, Florida, this is a novel about a community where everything is perfect, including the teenagers.  Subliminal messages make sure of that.  And what happens to those who wish to maintain their spirit of individuality?  The answer will make you shudder, right through the last page.  Pair this with W.H. Auden’s poem “The Unknown Citizen” for a lively discussion about personal identity and the needs of the invidual vs. the needs of society.

THE COMPOUND by S.A. Bodeen 

In this novel, a father who is well-prepared for the unthinkable hurries his family into an underground bunker to protect them from nuclear war. But when problems arise with the compound in which they’ve lived for six years, Eli begins to question his father’s motives…and his sanity.  Fast-paced and gut-wrenching, this is another good one for reluctant readers.  Bodeen follows it up with THE GARDENER, another dystopian YA title to be released in May 2010.

GENESIS by Bernard Beckett


This slender dystopian novel was published as an adult book in the United States, but I’m so hoping it finds its way to older YA audiences. These 150 pages pack a heavy punch when it comes to considering the deeper questions of balancing the needs of society vs. the individual and what it means to be human. This would be a GREAT literature circles or book club choice for 8th grade and older.

THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner


A teenaged boy wakes up in a place he’s never been.  There are other boys, all of whom arrived in the same mysterious elevator.  There is a maze that opens each morning, runners who go out in search of an escape, and hideous creatures that threaten when the sun goes down. This one is delightfully creepy and fast-paced enough for reluctant readers. 

CRUNCH by Leslie Connor


Here’s the younger, more cheerful cousin to all these titles portraying dark futures.  This middle grade novel by Leslie Connor (WAITING FOR NORMAL) is set during a not-too-distant future gasoline shortage.  Five siblings are stuck on their own at home, running the family’s bike shop while their parents are stranded up north.  This one’s great for middle grade readers and gives a sense of a troubling future with plenty of hope and humor, too. Due out from Katherine Tegan books on March 30, 2010.

Are you hoarding canned goods yet?  Still reading?

From Bart’s Bookshelf, another list of dystopian YA novels
Apocalypse Now, a Publishers Weekly feature on the appeal of dystopian YA
From Publishers Weekly, another list of new and forthcoming dystopian YA titles
Need to find a quick story or movie clip to go along with a unit? Here’s the Wikipedia list of dystopian literature for ideas! 

Now…what are some of your favorite titles and pairings in this genre?  Leave a comment, and feel free to stop by later on to check back as the list grows!

P.S. Unrelated to this post, but…  If you are a Chicago-area teacher or librarian who may be interested in a free school author visit on Tuesday, April 27th, please comment or drop me an email.  I’ll be in town for IRA and have availability for one school visit that Tuesday morning!

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