The Center for Children's Books

Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Dystopias and Post-Apocalyptic Novels - March 2012

Selected and annotated by Liz Engebrecht

Agell, Charlotte. Shift. Ottaviano/Holt, 2008. 240p. Gr. 7-10.
In fifteen-year-old Adrian Havoc's world, Homestate rules every aspect of society: identity cards need to be carried at all times, evolution is a forbidden topic of discussion, and religious education is enforced in daily "rapture" doses. When threatened by the end of the world, Adrian doesn’t believe it and sets out to the toxic Deadlands, which might be the trip that alters the universe.  In this powerful, thought-provoking and, by turns, humorous novel, Charlotte Agell uncovers the painful consequences of war and uncertain governments in an imagined—yet disturbingly realistic—world.

Aguirre, Ann. Enclave. Feiwel, 2011. 272p. Gr. 6-8.
Most of civilization has formed underground enclaves to escape the inhospitable landscape left by war and plague.  Deuce, a newly appointed Huntress in the enclaves under New York City, discovers a growing threat in the tunnels and is exiled with her partner to the surface.  Aguirre takes a look at our possible future and, in doing so, by explores the everyday emotions during a period of strife.

Bacigalupi, Paolo. Ship Breaker. Little, 2010. 336p. Gr. 7-10.
A gritty, high-stakes adventure set in a futuristic world where oil is scarce, but loyalty is scarcer.  In this powerful novel, Paolo Bacigalupi delivers a thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in a vivid and raw, uncertain future.  Nailer, a teenage boy, has found a job with a group that strips beached ships for copper.  One day he faces a difficult decision: strip an exquisite, recently washed up ship, or rescue the beautiful, wealthy girl who was the only survivor.

Bemis, John Claude. The Prince Who Fell From the Sky. Random House, 2012. 272p. Gr. 5-8.
This middle grade post-apocalyptic tale reverses the role of master and beast.  Animals—wolves in particular—rule the land covered by forest and tell tales of Skinless Ones (humans), who used to rule the land with cities and roads.  Casseomae is a bear who finds a child and decides to protect him instead of turning him in after his flying vehicle crashes.  Reminiscent of Tarzan and The Jungle Book, this compelling read is a good introduction for grade schoolers intrigued by dystopic ideas.

Bick, Ilsa J. Ashes. Egmont, 2011. 480p. Gr. 9-12.
An electromagnetic pulse flashes across the sky, destroying every electronic device, wiping out every computerized system, and killing billions.  Alex hiked into the woods to say good-bye to her dead parents and her personal demons, but instead has to deal with surviving the devastation while discerning who can be trusted and who is no longer human.   She and her new family of survivors must not only endure but learn to adapt amongst the devastation.

Blubaugh, Penny. Blood & Flowers. HarperTeen, 2011. 352p. Gr. 8-10.
Three years ago, Persia ran away from her drug-addict parents and found a home with the Outlaws, an underground theater troupe.  This is the highest happiness she can obtain in this bleak dystopic world.  In fact, the human world becomes too depressing and dangerous, so the troupe crosses over into the world of Faerie.  Warned that this world also has problems, the troupe quickly learns that their dismissal of those warnings was premature.   Penny Blubaugh writes a mesmerizing tale of family, faeries, and finding a place to call home.

Cashore, Kristin. Graceling. Harcourt, 2008. 471p. Gr. 8-10.
Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king's thug.  Meeting Po, Katsa must face new ideas and discover new truths about herself and her uncle. 

Clayton, Emma. The Roar. Chicken House/Scholastic, 2009. 496p. Gr. 6-9.
In a bleak future, humans use terrible chemicals to fight The Animal Plague that causes all of the world's animals to go rabid and renders most of the planet uninhabitable. Mika lives with his parents in overcrowded London, where he harbors thoughts that his twin sister, Ellie, is still alive. He has strange dreams about her, as result of the psychic link he shares with her.  His dreams turn out to be connected to a troubling secret: children with mutations that cause special abilities are being targeted by evil Mal Gorman, who uses a violent virtual reality arcade game to train them to fight in his upcoming war.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic, 2008. 420p. Gr. 7-10.
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.  When her sister’s name is called, Katniss volunteers in her place.

Craze, Galaxy. The Last Princess. Poppy/Little, 2012. 304p. Gr. 9-12.
A series of natural disasters has decimated the earth. Cut off from the rest of the world, England is a dark place: The sun rarely shines, food is scarce, and groups of criminals roam the woods, searching for prey. The people are growing restless.  The House of Windsor is under attack from Cornelius Holister, a scientific genius who claims to be a descendent of the Tudors.  Princess Eliza joins the enemy army to secure information about Holister’s plans and save her brother and sister. Eventually, she gathers her own army to defend her country against the intruder.

Crewe, Megan. The Way We Fall. Disney Hyperion, 2012. 320p. Gr. 7-10.
A strange virus begins to sweep through Kaelyn’s small island community, infecting young and old alike.  As the dead pile up, the government quarantines the island: no one can leave, and no one can come back.  Those still healthy must fight for the island's dwindling supplies, or lose all chance of survival. As everything familiar comes crashing down, Kaelyn joins forces with a former rival and discovers a new love in the midst of heartbreak. When the virus starts to rob her of friends and family, she clings to the belief that there must be a way to save the people she holds dearest.

DeStefano, Lauren. Wither. Simon, 2011. 368p. Gr. 9-12.
Rhine was born into a world where science has engineered perfectly healthy children, eliminating all disease, with the unintended consequence that, in all generations since that first indestructible one, all men die at age twenty-five and all women die at twenty. As society falls apart, it becomes common for girls to be kidnapped and sold into marriage, and that's what happens to Rhine, at the relatively ancient age of sixteen.

Diamand, Emily. Raiders' Ransom. Chicken House/Scholastic, 2009. 352p. Gr. 5-8.
Because of climate change, much of 23rd-century England is underwater. Poor Lilly is out fishing with her trusty first mate, Cat, when greedy raiders pillage the town—and kidnap the Prime Minister's daughter. Her village blamed, Lilly decides to find the girl, taking with her a ransom: a mysterious talking jewel.  Pirates and politicians rule Diamand’s crafted world, and she does an amazing job at keeping the characters’ voices distinct and intact.

Griffin, Bethany. Masque of the Red Death. Greenwillow, 2012. 336p. Gr. 9-12.
A devastating plague has decimated the population, and those who are left live in fear of catching it as the city crumbles around them: the only way to avoid death is by using the outrageously expensive masks that keep tainted air out.   Araby's narration is initially and appropriately self-centered, entirely focused on her grief and disillusionment, but as she increasingly engages with the outside world, readers get a clearer idea of the devastation wrought by the plague and the amoral society left in its wake.  The book ends with a cliffhanger and the promise of a sequel.

Haines, Lise. Girl in the Arena. Bloomsbury, 2009. 324p. Gr. 9-12.
In this imagined not-too-distant future, the gladiator games have been brought back, and Lyn is a neo-gladiator’s daughter.  Since her mother made a career out of marrying into the celebrity world of televised cruelty, the rules of the Gladiator Sports Association (GSA) are second nature to them:  Always lend ineffable confidence to the gladiator.  Remind him constantly of his victories. And most importantly, never leave the stadium when your father is dying. Unfortunately, when a gifted young fighter kills Lyn’s seventh father, he also captures her dowry bracelet, which means she must marry him.  For fans of The Hunger Games and Fight Club, Lise Haines’ debut novel is a mesmerizing look at a world addicted to violence—a modern world that’s disturbingly easy to imagine.

Heath, Jack. The Lab. Scholastic, 2008. 352p. Gr. 7-10.
Agent Six of Hearts is a 16-year-old superhuman. In a world where the authority (the Deck) is organized like a set of cards and a place called the Lab conducts illegal experiments, Six bridges these two organizations.  He carries a closely guarded secret that would ruin his life if anyone were to find out: he is the product of one of those experiments. When the Deck starts investigating the Lab, Six has to use all his abilities to stay alive.

Hirsch, Jeff. The Eleventh Plague. Scholastic, 2011. 288p. Gr. 8–10.
In the aftermath of a war, America’s landscape has been ravaged and two-thirds of the population left dead from a vicious strain of influenza. The survivors become salvagers in a world that has fallen back to the trade system.  We follow fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn and his family until his grandfather dies and his father falls into a coma, which is when Stephen finds his way to Settler’s Landing, a community that seems too good to be true. There he meets a girl, whose rebellious ways leads both of them to play a prank that triggers chaos and changes both Settler’s Landing and their lives—forever.

Levin, Betty. The Forbidden Land. Namelos, 2010. 134p. Gr. 5-7.
The People of the Singing Seals follow a patriarchal system in a post-apocalyptic world, where the children die young or are born flawed.  Willow knows that the Uncles are ready to try with her, so she secretly builds a boat of reeds to take her away.  When the boat is destroyed, she flees inland, where she follows the path of her mentor who was banished to the forbidden land.  Willow undertakes this journey alone through the wilderness.  Here, she will find new life or die trying.

Lu, Marie. Legend. Putnam, 2011. 336p. Gr. 9-12.
The Republic, situated in what was once the western United States, war is a constant.  There is no middle-class, only the elite and the slums.  The elite power the military and politics, while the slum produces thieves and murderers.  From very different worlds, June (of the elite) and Day (of the slums) have no reason to cross paths—until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias's death.  Meanwhile, they uncover dark secrets that the Republic has taken great pains to keep hidden from the populace.

Lynch, Chris. Cyberia. Scholastic, 2008. 176p. Gr. 4-6.
In this future setting developed for middle grade readers, technology is everywhere, including in your pets.  All pets have a microchip programmed to translate their speech into something humans can understand.  Zane thinks this is really cool until he brings home a wild animal—a mole, who tells him that the translator isn’t truthful and all pets are tired of being pets. Zane decides to help them fight back in this first book in a series that tells a compelling story of a boy and his animal friends.

McGann, Oisín. Daylight Runner. Eos/HarperTeen, 2008. 352p. Gr. 9-12.
An Ice Age has turned Earth into an Arctic desert.  The Machine keeps people alive, but it’s failing, and the Clockworkers don’t like questions.  Sol Wheat learns this the hard way when his father is accused of murder and disappears.  The Clockworkers target him as he uncovers the city’s gritty secrets.  This dystopic future features gangs and the imminent disaster of the world ending for a second time.

McMann, Lisa. The Unwanteds. Aladdin, 2011. 390p. Gr. 5–7.
In this world, the year you become a teenager marks the time of your labeling: Wanted, Necessary, or Unwanted.  This hierarchical terminology takes out all forms of creativity (Unwanteds) and cultivates a growing military (Wanteds).  The rest (Necessaries) do the menial field labor to keep the populace fed.  This middle grade tale follows the story of twin boys who are separated into different categories:  Aaron is selected to live and train with the military, but he can still feel a connection with his brother Alex, which leads him to question and explore this intriguing world he finds himself in.

Murray, Kirsty. Vulture's Wake. Holiday House, 2010. 267p. Gr. 6-9.
Women were all killed by a mutated strain of the avian flu, or so the world believes.  Callum learns differently when he is rescued by Bo after escaping the Outstationers.  Bo is trying to find the hidden safety of Vulture’s Run when she finds Callum half-dead and nurses him back to health.  They travel cross-country from one danger to another, following misinformation and naïve ideas.  The fast pacing and unique characters bring out some interesting questions on community and individualism.

Ness, Patrick. The Knife of Never Letting Go. Candlewick, 2008. 496p. Gr. 7-10.
Another look at supposedly extinct women, this novel describes a community where all males share in each other’s thoughts.  Todd is considered a boy on the verge of becoming a man; when he runs away after discovering the men are hiding something from him, he is confronted by a silent creature: a girl.  This discovery leads him to search for answers and unlearn everything he’s ever known.

Ó Guilín, Peadar. The Inferior. Fickling/Random House, 2008. 448p. Gr. 9-12.
Eat or be eaten, literally!  Humans must hunt other species and humans to survive in a savage world that has regressed to inhuman conditions.  Survival depends on your worth to the Tribe; useless members are traded for food.  The Inferior explores questions of power, influence, community, and morals.

Roth, Veronica. Divergent. Tegen/HarperCollins, 2011. 496p. Gr. 8-10.
Set in Chicago, Divergent introduces us to a society broken into factions.  At sixteen, young adults must choose which faction to devote the rest of their lives.  Family and political ties are strong, almost stronger than individuals’ need to be true to themselves.  Beatrice struggles through the initiation as she and her fellows are forced to undergo extreme physical and mental challenges to prove their worth and devotion.  This transformation leads to self-discovery, romance, and a secret that could prove disastrous.

Ryan, Carrie. The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Delacorte, 2009. 320p. Gr. 9-12.
Living by three simple truths, Mary has lived a peaceful, uneventful life until these truths start failing her.  Mary learns that the Sisterhood, the Guardians, and the Unconsecrated may not have her best interests in mind, and the fence that separates them all from the Forest of Hands and Teeth has been breached, which means safety is a relative term.  Readers will want to reflect on the author ‘s exploration of the tension between the safety of the society you’ve always known and the uncertain future that could make everything better.

Scarrow, Alex. Time Riders. Walker, 2010. 416p. Gr. 7-10.
The world is so messed up that the only way to fix it is to form a group that uses time travel to stop rogue time travel from destroying the world.  Sounds complicated, right?  This group consists of three teenagers known as the TimeRiders.  They travel back to World War II because a new threat appears with ties to Nazi Germany, but the shifty present holds almost as many dangers.

Shusterman, Neal. Unwind. Simon, 2007. 335p. Gr. 8-10.
The Second Civil War was between Pro-Choice and Pro-Life armies. They finally decided on a compromise: human life is safe until age thirteen.  At that time, a parent can choose to “unwind” their offspring; the child’s organs are then harvested and transplanted into needy recipients.  The story follows three runaways who have been slated for unwinding.  The book raises serious moral issues while delivering a story that is both suspenseful and provoking.

Simner, Janni Lee. Bones of Faerie. Random House, 2009. 256p. Gr. 7-10.
Blending dystopia and fairy tale, Bones of Faerie delivers a tale of the aftermath of a war between humanity and Faerie, which left both sides devastated.  Or so they say, but the forest surrounding Liza’s home town threatens to harm all who enter.  When Liza discovers that she wields a Faerie ability to see both past and future, she starts on a journey that crosses Faerie and human worlds as she discovers she may be the key to healing both worlds.

Smibert, Angie. Memento Nora. Cavendish, 2011. 184p. Gr. 8-10.
Memory is a relative thing when you can take a pill that makes you forget your nightmares.  Nora learns that some things are worth remembering, so with the help of two new friends, Nora creates a comic book of their memories, Memento.  When it becomes a success, Nora must tread carefully to avoid being forced to take the Big Pill and lose all her memories forever.  A new look at memory and the storage of information with a remarkable cast of characters.

Snyder, Maria V. Inside Out. Harlequin Teen, 2010. 320p. Gr. 8-10.
Secluded in a building without the option of going outside, ever, Trella spends her life cleaning the pipes.  A two-class system keeps the Uppers in their fancy attire and surroundings from the undesired, but necessary, workers like her.  When Trella talks to the Broken Man, she learns of the Gateway, a way to get outside, which may or may not be a better place.  Snyder provides a provocative read that allows young adults to reexamine their own assumptions.

Strahan, Jonathan, ed. The Starry Rift: Tales of New Tomorrows: An Original Science Fiction Anthology. Viking, 2008. 544p. Gr. 9-12.
Stories in this anthology include topics and elements such as simulated gaming worlds, cloning, battle tactics, spaceships, urban settings, and political intrigue.  This broader look allows any reader the opportunity to learn more about the future of science fiction and also get a small taste of many different offerings.

Treggiari, Jo. Ashes, Ashes. Scholastic, 2011. 341p. Gr. 8-10.
Between out-of-control weather and savage plagues, 99% of the population has been decimated.  Lucy, who is only 16, has been surviving alone in the wilds of Central Park until she is rescued from a pack of wild dogs by a boy named Aidan.  She discovers that it’s easier to survive alongside others when she joins his band of followers, especially when the Sweepers are after her.  Lucy must find out why the Sweepers want her—and find it out soon.

Wells, Dan. Partials. Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, 2012. 480p. Gr. 9-12.
Partials are engineered organic beings identical to humans, and they are at war with the human race.  A weaponized virus called RM has been released, and only a fraction of the population is immune and can survive.  Mandatory pregnancy laws have the remaining humans on the verge of a civil war, and sixteen-year-old Kira, medic-in-training, must find the connection between humans and Partials in order to ensure all of their survival.

Young, Moira. Blood Red Road. McElderry, 2011. 480p. Gr. 9-12.
Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland threatened by constant sandstorms, is a community that scavenges landfills in order to survive.  Saba and her twin brother Lugh are content until four cloaked horsemen capture Lugh and send Saba on a terrifying quest to get him back.  During her quest, Saba discovers many empowering qualities about herself and challenges her civilization in ways that the rulers fiercely oppose.  Young provides an epic love story enhanced by a fantastic writing style and amazing backdrop.