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Dystopian Novels for Teens

by Miriam Downey 1. February 2014 09:35

 Most teens like dystopian novels but they don't know the term dystopian. Dystopia is just the opposite of Utopia. In utopian fiction, society is ideal, or the way the writer visualizes that society would be ideal. In dystopian fiction, things have gone very bad--there is at least one major reason why things aren't good. Most people would classify dystopian fiction as science fiction, but the fact that the culture is oppressive is what makes the difference. One writer suggests that a novel is dystopian when the government or the governing social institution is dysfunctional. Usually dystopian fiction is set in the "near" future.

Firction has always been full of dystopian literature, most likely beginning with Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, written in the 1700s, which really was a combination of utopian and dystopian literature. The most current example of dystopian fiction is The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Most parents had to read 1984, Fahrenheit 451 or Animal Farm when they were in school, and these books remain the classic dystopian novels.

One children's book expert believes that teens are drawn to dystopian fiction because it's an exciting genre but also because the books are generally set in either chaotic or strictly controlled societies--which tends to mimic a teenager's life. The books also are hero or heroine journeys, much more like fairy tales than they are like science fiction. The teenaged hero/heroine will be tested and challenged. Often the adults are the oppressors and the children are the liberators. Easy to see why these books are loved by teens.

I have included in this rather short list the books that I can recommend to most young people. Let's begin with the classics, most of which are available online. Although there are some objections to the Hunger Games series, I did include it on the list.

Classic Dystopian Novels

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. Written in 1726, it has never been out of print. (grades 6-12)

Animal Farm by George Orwell. The farm animals stage an uprising and overcome an oppressive regime. (grades 6-12)

1984 by George Orwell. The "party" controls everything in Oceania, and everywhere Winston goes, he sees the face of the party. (grades 10-12)

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. 451 Fahrenheit, by the way, is the temperature that books burn and the government is out to burn all the books. (grades 9-12)

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. This is a short story that may have been influential in the creation of the Hunger Games. (grades 10-12)

Lord of the Flies by William Golding. A group of boys are lost on an island and try to create a government. (grades 7-12)

Recent Dystopian Fiction

The Giver by Lois Lowry. The society depicted in this novel eliminates pain and problems by promoting "sameness." Winner of the Newbery Prize. (grades 6-8)

Uglies series by Scott Westerfield. When you are 16 in Uglytown, you turn pretty because of required surgery. (grades 7-9)

Feed by M. T. Anderson. Describes a world where everyone's mind is hardwired to resemble the Internet. (grades 7-12)

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Three books about a dystopian society called Panem. There is some violence in the books, but they are remarkably well plotted. (grades 7-12)

Divergent series by Veronica Roth. Tris is born into a caste-based society where there is only one chance to move ahead. (grades 9-12)


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Comments (1) -

Tess Masterman
Tess Masterman United Kingdom
8/5/2014 6:09:52 AM #

This is a very helpful summary of the genre.  Some other recent dystopian series that you may find of interest are:- Matched, Crossed and Reached by Ally Condie.  The Declaration, The Resistance, and The Legacy by Gemma Malley.

Also, do you know who has the rights to the second picture you have posted on this Dystopia article, with the boy and girl, as if possible I would like to use it on a poster advertising our Dystopian fiction books this Autumn in our school and would like to ask for permission to use it for this educational purpose.   Many thanks


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