One of the best parts of reading is getting to explore all the “what if” questions. And there are so many questions out there to ask, particularly about society and our world and the future. It’s this reason that so many readers are attracted to the best dystopian books.
We often ask ourselves, “what if the world was better than it is?”
But because we humans are also curious little creatures who are totally interested in things going terribly terribly wrong, we also like to ask the question: “okay but what if the world was even worse?”
To answer that question, we slam a dystopian novel on the table.
What Is a Dystopian Book?
A dystopian book is basically about an anti-utopian society. It’s a society that was built to be perfect, full of peace and fairness and safety, but now it’s festered into a little ball of corruption.
Wikipedia defines dystopia as “a community or society that is undesirable or frightening”.
The best dystopian books are usually set in the not-too-distant future (so we’re not into hardcore sci-fi territory with spaceships and Star Trek yet) and contain a lot of social critiques.
These books like to ask questions like:
- What if reading was illegal?
- Or, what if everyone lived underground?
- What if the world was just dust and desert, how would you survive?
- What if Siri…controlled the world!!?
I haven’t read that last one as a novel yet, but I’m sure it’s coming!
The 2012 Dystopian Book Craze
Remember when the first Hunger Games movie came out in 2012? Back then there was a wildfire desire for more dystopian Young Adult books.
They were everywhere! Move over vampires, we want to read about teenage girls who take down evil governments.
And I have to say, I’m still a fan of the entire concept.
When it comes to the best dystopian books for teens, they usually contain a checklist of really awesome stuff. Like:
- Teen girls who fight back against oppression
- Cruel and dictatorship governments who need to be dismantled
- Freaky technology or strict society rules that make your skin crawl
- Maybe a cute romance too!!
- People eating a lot of dehydrated food that doesn’t sound all that delicious
- Rebellion, war, the glorious fight for hope
We get relationships and action scenes, impossible battles and devastating losses.
But I always feel young adult dystopian novels come with a solid message of hope.
Sometimes, in today’s world, we look at the news and at our planet falling apart with corrupt politics and climate change, and it’s all very morose and depressing.
It’s perfectly fine to need a dystopian novel where teens fight back – and win! – to read as a form of self-care.
So read more dystopian! Be inspired for the future, or relieved our world isn’t microchipping people until their brains are 89% robots (…yet), and get lost in a whirlwind of what-ifs…
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The Best Dystopian Books For Teens
Here’s a list of some of my top favorite young adult dystopian books! I’ve got some old favorites in there, as well as more recent releases!
This may be the most famous YA novel of the decade, but I firmly believe it deserves all its fame!
It was such a pertinent look at society and focused on this idea that if people convinced themselves something was “just a game”, they could watch anything happen and not react.
Panem is a society under a dictatorship and the president demands all twelve districts send two children to fight in an annual “games” as punishment for their past rebellions. These kids fight to the death.
But when Katniss’ little sister is picked, she volunteers to take her place and is sucked into a world of glamour and extravagance, before being hurled into an arena to fight to the death.
It’s a harrowing storyline, but definitely has some thoughtful things to say. Not to mention powerful heroines, an unlikely romance, rebellions starting with just a spark, and the importance of never giving up.
This trilogy took started in 2016 and the last book (The Toll) only just came out this year! It’s set in this dystopian society masquerading as a utopia. No one ever dies! Life is perfect! Everyone is safe!
But to keep the population manageable, there is a group of people nominated to be Scythes, who strategically glean people every day.
Citra and Ronan are chosen to be scythe apprentices, but if they fail, they’ll be next on the death list.
One of my favorite things about this series is the unique premise, but also it has really fun writing!
Quips and humor, as well as darkness and corruption. I still need to read the finale, but the first two books were excellent!
While this one is often classified as contemporary with a few sci-fi elements, I think it still fits with the dystopian kids! Imagine a world where you got a phone call 24 hours before you died.
You don’t get to know how you’ll go, but you have that day to say goodbye to people, get your affairs in order, be reckless, or do all the things you were too scared to do. Because what’s left to lose?
Mateo and Rufus are strangers who end up spending their last day together after connecting on an app. They’re opposites with messed up pasts, but they encourage each other to just live.
They have one more day, make it count. It’s also an LGBT book by an #ownvoices author!
This trilogy originally took off in 2012 (fitting in nicely with the Hunger Games rise!), but it sparked a spin-off series to bring it up to 6 books and many excellent novellas! The last book, Imagine Me, comes out in 2020, so keep an eye out for it.
The series begins with a girl locked in an asylum, her mind fracturing as she’s confined into solitary for having dangerous powers.
A single touch from her can kill you. But then a boy is shoved into her cell too, and…her touch doesn’t kill him.
This might be time to escape. But the reason she’s in there, and the people who help get her out, have much bigger plans for a girl so powerful – a girl who could be a weapon.
What I loved about this series was Juliette’s voice! It was raw and vulnerable. She’s a teenage girl in a total mess, just wanting love and a place to be safe, and she makes mistakes… but she also makes epic friends.
And there’s an enemies-to-lovers romance in here you definitely don’t want to miss out on.
When it comes to books about books, I’m always instantly sold. Welcome to this future, where knowledge is power and power is coveted and locked up and controlled.
Books are illegal, smuggling books get you hanged, and all knowledge must pass through the all-powerful library of Alexandria. The Great Library is a fierce dictatorship that no one can dismantle.
But Jess Brightwell comes from a long family of smugglers and they’d like a guy on the inside. So he’s sent to become a spy in the Great Library’s service.
But a single misstep could end with him being burned like all the books deemed “heretical”. This series of six epic books is particularly incredible because it underlines the importance of reading.
How books shouldn’t be censored and libraries should be free and accessible to all! I’m really passionate about the freedom of literature, so this struck all the right chords with me.
Not to mention it has epic characters and a squad you’ll fall in love with!
This is set in a world of toxic wasteland, where even the ocean is brimming with vile trash. The rich sit in their private mansions and ignore the cries of the poor, and pirates roam the scenes.
Marina is a pirate, keen to prove herself and stay alive, and when she accidentally kidnaps the wealthy president’s son, Ross, she decides to ransom him.
But Ross is on his own desperate mission: his best friend got lost in the riots and he has to find him before its too late.
If you’re looking for a book about fierce friendship, unbeatable girls, a critical look at what we’re doing to the planet, and epic action scenes: this is your book.
It totally took me by surprise with how much I loved it, especially Ross and Adam’s unshakeable friendship, and Marina’s vivacious fierceness to be master of her self and do right in a world that’s conditioned her to do wrong.
It’s been a while since I read this book, but I can’t stop thinking about it!
Only Ever Yours is one of the best dystopian books. It’s very dark and is set in a world where women are simply meant to be pretty and plastic and pleasure men and have children.
It’s chilling and malicious. The book follows a group of girls kept in a facility that hones them into having perfect bodies and empty heads.
Either they graduate top of their class to become wives of wealthy businessmen, or else they become concubines or…they disappear forever.
No one plays with a broken barbie doll, after all. It’s not the kind of book you’ll read and say “I like this!”
It’s the kind that will shake you and make you think, which is excellent and just what we need sometimes.
Here we get thrown into a world of desolation and desert. Think Mad Max: Fury Road.
There’s no water or hope for miles. The land is lawless, education is sparse, and cults run rampant in the cities.
Saba lives on a horrible speck of at farm until her parents die and her twin brother is kidnapped.
She can’t just sit down and do nothing, so she packs up, takes her little sister along, and sets off to save her family.
She ends up in cage fights and teaming up with a cocky daredevil named Jack and falling into companionship with a girl gang of revolutionaries.
Saba just wants to save her family, but if she knocks over some evil dictators while she’s at it? So be it.
I adored this book’s bitter spunk and sass! It also is written in slang to demonstrate the loss of books and education in this sparse end-of-the-world society.
It can take a little to get used to the prose (lots of phonetic spelling and no quotation marks), but then you get sucked in and it adds to the book’s charm. The whole trilogy is thrilling and gritty!
About the Author
CG Drews is a YA book blogger with the goal to read every book in existence. She’s aiming for immortality for this. When not reading, she writes novels and blogs at paperfury.com.