In 1946, Aldous Huxley published Brave New World – a science fiction tale about a society that has erased all individuality and emotion to achieve stability. Dystopias like this have been around for many years in both books and movies, but the popularity of The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins has made it a red-hot area for teen and middle grade readers right now. A dystopia is the opposite of a perfect, or utopian, society. Typically, it is a future world in which the illusion of a perfect society is maintained through oppressive technological, bureaucratic or some other form of control. The protagonist will start as either accepting the status quo or even actively supporting it; but within a short space of time will have been thrown into or will take a position of opposition.
So now there are a plethora of series with high school age heroines and heroes, who are have to confront and put right the ills of a society created by adults who assume they know best for everyone. Of course, kids can relate to that!
Though these books are thematically intended for teens, they can also be very appealing to tweens and are good gateway books for them to transition into YA – young adult – fiction. The plot is fast-paced, the characters are relatable and while the violence and romance are more amped up than in the typical middle grade book, they are not usually too graphic or explicit.
In the Children’s Room, we get a lot of requests from kids looking for The Hunger Games. Of course we’re happy to put it on hold if it’s not available, but we do also like to be able to make alternate recommendations so that every kid can walk out of the library with a book that they’re really excited about. Here are some of my favorite dystopic books that I think have middle grade appeal:
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
At the age of 18, all teenagers are cured of love, aka delirium nervosa, to keep society stable. But shortly before her treatment, Lena develops romantic feelings for a boy and begins to question a government that outlaws such powerful emotions. I loved that the logic of society’s ban on love is actually pretty sound, even though morally abhorent!
Divergent by Veronica Roth
In the future, everyone is assigned into one of five factions at the age of 16. Tris, however, discovers that she doesn’t fit into any single one and has to make a choice. She finds a freedom and excitement in her new faction that she had never imagined, but then she discovers there is a conspiracy undermining the whole society. Though I found the world building a little flawed, this is a really exciting and action-packed adventure.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Though this is found in the Children’s Room, it is in many ways darker than other dystopic novels. At the age of 12, Jonas is assigned the role of receiver of memories for his community. But like many other dystopic protagonists, he quickly finds out his perfect society has a dark underside. I find The Giver quieter and more thoughtful than many of the current crop of dystopic fiction.
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
Finn is incarcerated in a world-sized prison. Claudia, a high ranking young woman, is about to be imprisoned in an arranged marriage. They both find keys that somehow connect them and their futures. I found the world in which Claudia lives particularly fascinating: it’s an Elizabethan age that recreated so that no more mass destruction could be committed.
Legend by Marie Lu
Day is one of the Republic’s most wanted criminals and June is a prodigy of the Republic military. You can guess where the story is going but I found the ride really engrossing and thought-provoking.
Matched by Ally Condie
Life is perfect for Cassia and she is looking forward to the big Matching ball at which she will find out who her life partner is going to be. But the Matching process does not go as planned and Cassia begins to question everything that the Society does for her. Though similar in theme to Delirium, I found this lighter and more romantic.
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
At the age of 16, all teens are operated on to make them perfectly Pretty. Tally can’t wait, but before she reaches her birthday, she discovers there is more to her society than partying all the time and that there is an alternate society operating outside the city. I thought this was a great romp which raises interesting questions about conformity and acceptance of social norms.