1. Feed by M.T. Anderson
Yes, I know this one has popped up in more than a few of my posts, but it’s just that good! It follows American culture’s current obsession with youth, buying crap, and fusing our consciousness with our smartphones to a scary place. The narrative mixes teenage romance with the collapse of society, wrapped in a buttery future-slang crust and seasoned with cultural artifacts from our future dystopia. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, hopefully you’ll reconsider buying that iPhone.
A middle-grades novel from the seventies, The Girl Who Owned a City is the story of a twelve-year-old girl living in the aftermath of a plague that killed all adults (defined as anyone teenaged or older). Lisa is a bright and proactive girl who uses her brain to provide for herself and her little brother, and eventually protect herself and her friends from roving gangs of kids who would rather use force to get what they need.
3. Into the Forest by Jean Hegland
Another post-societal collapse tale, origins mostly unknown (though a fuel crisis seems to figure in). Sisters Eva and Nell struggle to survive in their secluded rural Northern California home even as they continue to hope that their ambitions of being a prima ballerina and attending Harvard, respectively, might still be possible. The story is narrated by Nell, in the form of a journal, skipping back and forth between memories and current events. It is a bittersweet tale of hope and loss, that gets a bit brutal and bizarre three-quartes of the way through, but ultimately it is about the bond between two sisters.
A quick read about a group of children plucked from their beds and plopped down in a giant psychological experiment. The plot is tight and chilling, Lord of the Flies 2: Behavioral Programming Boogaloo.
5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Test tube babies and human remains reclamation! Everybody buying new crap all the time! Forcing children to engage in sexplay? Another classic speculative tale about placing more value on efficiency and consumption than spirituality and fulfillment.
6. The Giver by Lois Lowry
This is one of those novels, which a lot of us read as kids in school, that holds up into adulthood. A life without pain, choice, or difference is hard to accept when you’ve seen the highs that the lows make possible.
7. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Maybe not the most original concept, but the execution was aces! I love a strong but flawed protagonist and a lot of moral gray area. Brain food.
The novel from which Suzanne Collins has so often been accused of cribbing her plot. Except if you’ve read it, you know that’s kind of ridiculous. This novel is a lot less political, and a lot more gory. The story focuses on the individual characters (the lengthy novel feels like a fifty-character-study) and their social interactions more than the society that created a game in which children fight to the death. Well-written, but not for the faint of heart.
9. Under the Dome by Stephen King
This may be a bit of a stretch, but since the definition of dystopia includes “a society characterized by human misery” I’ll allow it. The invisible dome that claps down over Chester’s Mill, Maine is like a make-your-own dystopia kit. Great novel, kept me awake reading late into the night despite the fact that I was at an intensive printmaking workshop and really needed my sleep. Worth it.
A future Earth ravaged by oil-drilling and climate change, in which many major cities (like New Orleans) have gone the way of Atlantis. This book has misery to spare, but the writing is so lush you’ll feel like you’re crawling through a rusted-out ship tearing feet of copper wiring from the walls just to get a crust of bread right alongside Nailer and his crew. And you’ll like it.
Plus, the cover’s gorgeous.