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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29 Replies on “Brave New Books: New Dystopian YA Novels to Pair with Old Favorites

  1. These look good!

    I’m going to check some of these out! Thanks!

    Also, what about The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger by Lois Lowry? I loved those books!


  2. Great list! I love YA dystopian books, too, and I actually just finished reading THE ROAD. So excited that there’s going to be a sequel to THE COMPOUND–thanks for that tip!

    A sort-of dystopian YA series that I really enjoyed was John Marsden’s Tomorrow books. Rather than exploring the environmental angle or exploring what might happen if society went too far in particular direction, this series follows a group of Australian teenagers who are out camping in the bush when their country is taken over by a hostile invading force. It’s a very exciting adventure.

    I also like Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Shadow Children series for middle grade readers.

    Some favorite classics are, of course, 1984 and BRAVE NEW WORLD. And (though I’m straying into movie territory here) BRAZIL.

  3. Tanita Says 🙂

    I’m excited by how many of these I’ve already read.

    …also wondering if it’s wrong to be excited that dystopia is going middle grade! Woot! I think it’s excellent to get younger kids thinking, “What would I do?” There may be some bumps along the way in the future, but it doesn’t have to be all dark — resourceful people will save the day and change the world. The sooner everyone starts considering how, the better!

  4. Re: These look good!

    Absolutely! Those are favorites of mine, too, even though I tried to focus on a few titles that weren’t as well known here. I honestly think I like MESSENGER most of all. The trading was a great conversation starter for my students!

  5. Re: Tanita Says 🙂

    Given this comment, you’re absolutely going to love CRUNCH – it has exactly that “What would I do?” spirit, and the kids in the book are terrific.

  6. Dystopian

    I’m going to add two faves of mine (love Genesis and Suzanne Collins, too!) The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and The Answer by Patrick Ness. Very provocative themes for discussion in these.

    Great list!


  7. I love dystopian/apocalypic fiction, and I find that I prefer to read titles for YA and MG, because they tend to have more shreds of hope, than adult titles which tend to be far more bleak. This goes to my reason for reading the genre–I’m more interested in how people go on than in how the world ends, less interested in the darkness itself than I am in the characters who carry lights, however feeble, into it.

    I know you’re talking about realistic settings, but there are also some good titles that combine fantasy or paranormal elements with dystopian themes. Two that come to mind are Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and Janni Simner’s wonderful Bones of Faerie.

  8. Thank you for sharing this thoughtful list! Going to get some of these on my wish list. It’s growing out of the limits but I hope to squeeze some on the next big shopping experience 🙂
    Already had Hunger games. But I’m really eager to get my hands on Candor.

  9. Must read Genesis… To the others mentioned, I’d also add Julie Bertagna’s Exodus and Zenith, and Allegra Goodman’s The Other Side of the Island. Oh, I could read books like these all day. I think this is an excellent genre for hooking new readers – I’m so glad that you do a unit like this with your students, Kate.

  10. Great list! I love dystopian novels, but haven’t read the Pfeffer books yet. I’ve been wanting too, just haven’t been able to yet. This is a genre that is really getting popular and I can’t wait to see what new authors bring to the table. I’m especially excited for the sequel to The Maze Runner.

  11. Great topic. I’ve read a lot of these including the Lois Lowry three which are all great, Carrie Ryan’s Forest Of Hands And Teeth, and Dashner’s The Maze Runner.It’s such a potent subject and there are so many spins on it.
    I’m excited to read the Life As We Knew It trilogy and The Girl In The Arena. And of course, can’t wait for Mocking Jay to come out.
    My own dystopian YA, Lucky, is coming out through Scholastic in Fall 2011. I’ve always loved the genre and am thrilled it’s getting so much attention lately.

  12. Thank you for this list! The Hunger Games is what made reading click for my 8th grade boys. I started reading HG to them and they couldn’t wait to get their hands on it. Many got copies and read ahead. Now most of them have finished or are finishing Catching Fire and eagerly awaiting the release of MockingJay. I’m reading The Knife of Never Letting Go. It’s good. I’ve got boys asking me to find them new books to read. I need to head to B&N with this list in my hand!

  13. You’ll love the new Connor book. I adored WAITING FOR NORMAL (sobbed my way through part of it, but loved it), and this one is just as good in a different way.

  14. I really, really loved GENESIS – haven’t used this one for lit circles yet, but I’m excited to have some of my more advanced readers get their teeth into it. Thanks for the additional suggestions, Jen – they’re going on my to-read list!

  15. I want to read KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO, too – it’s sitting in my pile right now. And of course…MOCKINGJAY…sigh… Oh, the injustice of waiting until August!

  16. great list!

    Hi! I just wandered in here. LOVED The Hunger Games. Stayed up all night reading it (not exaggerating). The Maze Runner was next on my list, but I wasn’t familiar with the rest. Wow, guess I have to add more books to my list.

    I recently heard that dystopian fantasy is now all the rage. 🙂

  17. Re: great list!

    It’s popular right now…and has been one of my favorite genres to read and share with students for a while. Glad you found this list & hope you discover some new favorites!