The best dystopian books for young adults

Why am I passionate about this?

Young Adult fiction has always been special to me. I think it’s because I started writing my first book, Alive?, when I was a teenager. There’s an added richness to YA stories; somehow the characters always feel so much more vulnerable, more unpredictable, and more real. My fascination with dystopian stories came after I first read The Handmaid’s Tale, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Whether it’s zombies, kids being forced to fight to the death, or people living their lives inside a virtual world, I’m in! I have three published books about the zombie apocalypse, and am currently working on an exciting new YA dystopian story, which I can’t wait to share!     


I wrote...

Alive?

By Melissa Woods,

Book cover of Alive?

What is my book about?

Everyone knows the first rule of the zombie apocalypse: Don't. Get. Bitten.

Unfortunately Violet has never been great at following the rules. Within minutes of meeting her first zombie, it has taken a chunk out of her arm. Fortunately for Violet, she doesn't die. Unfortunately —she's not exactly alive, either. Now she will need to learn to control her cannibalistic urges, and hide what she is from the other survivors. And the real zombies? They still want to eat her, too. Surviving the zompocalypse is tricky when you play for both teams.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Melissa Woods Why did I love this book?

Mary lives in a village, surrounded on all sides by a fence, which protects the people within from what lives in the forest. She follows the rules laid out by the Sisterhood, to keep her safe from the Unconsecrated. But things are not as simple as they first appear. There are secrets within this sanctuary, and when the fences are breached, Mary must make a difficult choice – between her village, and her future. Is there a life beyond the Forest of Hands and Teeth?

It was inevitable there would be a zombie story on my list, but this one is definitely worth mentioning. The setting feels unique (a certain M Night Shyamalan movie notwithstanding), and provides a constant, looming threat on the horizon, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. Unlike other zombie novels, The Forest of Hands and Feet is a slow burner, but this isn’t a bad thing. As Mary’s life slowly falls apart around her, we feel her despair and helplessness, and there are times when the zombies don’t even feel like her biggest threat.

By Carrie Ryan,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Forest of Hands and Teeth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary's truths are failing her. She's learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and…


Book cover of The Aviary

Melissa Woods Why did I love this book?

In a world where beauty is bought and sold on the streets, sixteen-year-old Serenity has spent her whole life in hiding in order to avoid being taken. But, unfortunately, nothing ever stays hidden for long. She is snatched from her home and sold to the highest bidder. Now she’s a Bird, forced to live in The Aviary – an elite museum where girls are displayed as living art by day, and rented out to paying customers at night. In no time Serenity becomes one of the most coveted exhibits – The Swan – and learns that in order to stand any chance at finding her family again, she must play her new role to perfection. She didn’t anticipate how her feelings for the cold, yet charismatic, museum director, would complicate things.  

This story is such a unique and interesting take on a dystopian future, and Shore writes her world beautifully. Serenity is a fiery and independent girl, not about to take the whole slavery thing lying down (no pun intended!). The story is full of surprises, and there are several sequels to keep you busy too. The Aviary is a book I was so excited about before release, and it was not a disappointment!

By Emily Shore,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Aviary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Gentlemen, we have a special treat for you today. Feast your eyes on this pure-blooded beauty!"

Sixteen-year-old Serenity has spent her entire life in hiding to protect her from this exact moment. In a world where beauty is bought and sold on the streets like a corporate commodity, Serenity is taken--ripped from her life--and sold to the highest bidder. And that bidder? Enigmatic and dangerous, Luc is the director of The Aviary--an elite museum where girls are displayed as living art by day...and cater to the lascivious whims of the highest bidder by night. In this elaborate and competitive world,…


Book cover of The Handmaid's Tale

Melissa Woods Why did I love this book?

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She used to have a job, a husband, and a life she could control. Now, in a world where birth rates have plummeted, women have lost all rights. Her only purpose in life is to get pregnant, so that the Commander and his wife can take her child. 

Though this book is not technically classed as YA, I first read it as a teenager, and think it’s manageable and appropriate for a mature teen. It’s a stunning piece of literature that tells a story of a frightening future that doesn’t feel a million miles outside the realms of possibility. Yet within it, are little moments of hope. Stories of unity and sisterhood, and finding ways to take back control when it has been ripped away. Offred has autonomy over nothing, not even her own body, yet she’s no victim, and that’s part of what makes her a great protagonist.  

The Handmaid’s Tale is terrifying, unexpected, and somehow beautiful. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys dystopias.

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

30 authors picked The Handmaid's Tale as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

** THE SUNDAY TIMES NO. 1 BESTSELLER **
**A BBC BETWEEN COVERS BIG JUBILEE READ**

Go back to where it all began with the dystopian novel behind the award-winning TV series.

'As relevant today as it was when Atwood wrote it' Guardian

I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.

Offred is a Handmaid in The Republic of Gilead, a religious totalitarian state in what was formerly known as the United States. She is placed in the household of The Commander, Fred Waterford -…


Book cover of The 100

Melissa Woods Why did I love this book?

Ever since a devastating nuclear war made their home uninhabitable, humanity has lived on ships far above the Earth’s surface. That is, until 100 juvenile prisoners are sent down on a dangerous mission – to recolonize the planet. It will either be their second chance at life, or a short-lived suicide mission. Clarke is among the 100, and faces not only the challenges of an abandoned planet but also the ghosts of her past. 

It has been a long time since I read something that I simply couldn’t put down, but this is a series of books that had me absolutely hooked from beginning till end. The characters are diverse and well-rounded, the situations they find themselves in are exciting, and I was constantly clutching the side of the chair in anticipation of what was happening next. As someone who watched the TV show, I was excited to read this series, and trust me when I say: the books are better. 

By Kass Morgan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The 100 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

The Hunger Games meets Lost in this spectacular new series. Now a major TV series on E4.

No one has set foot on Earth in centuries - until now.

Ever since a devastating nuclear war, humanity has lived on spaceships far above Earth's radioactive surface. Now, one hundred juvenile delinquents - considered expendable by society - are being sent on a dangerous mission: to re-colonize the planet. It could be their second chance at life...or it could be a suicide mission.

CLARKE was arrested for treason, though she's haunted by the memory of what she really did. WELLS, the chancellor's…


Book cover of The Hunger Games

Melissa Woods Why did I love this book?

The United States as we know it has been destroyed by war. In its place is Panem. The Capitol rules over the 12 districts, and in order to maintain this control, every year they hold a televised contest known as The Hunger Games. Each district must send one boy and one girl, to fight to the death over many days, in a giant arena. Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her little sister’s place in the Games, ready to do all she can in order to come home again. But Peta, her district’s other competitor, makes everything a lot more complicated. 

This is another series I’d argue is better than the movies. Collins creates a world that all at once feels impossible in its brutality, yet also like a startling vision of a not too distant future. Katniss is a complicated character, and in the books, we learn so much about her past trauma, her frequently conflicted feelings towards others, and her motivations for making – often very difficult – choices. The Hunger Games is gripping, exciting, dark, yet somehow hopeful. Even when the world is at its darkest, we can still find the light.

By Suzanne Collins,

Why should I read it?

43 authors picked The Hunger Games as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. But Katniss has been close to death before - and survival, for her, is second nature. The Hunger Games is a searing novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present. Welcome to the deadliest reality TV show ever...


You might also like...

Not in the Plan

By Dana Hawkins,

Book cover of Not in the Plan

Dana Hawkins Author Of Not in the Plan

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a contemporary romance writer, mom, queer, dog-lover, and coffee enthusiast. I have a deep love of the genre, particularly sparkly and swoony, sapphic romcoms, with a borderline obsession with happily-ever-afters. Knowing I will always have a happy ending while smiling through pages gives me the comforting hug I sometimes need. My goal is to spread queer joy in my writing and provide a safe, celebratory, and affirming space for my readers to escape reality.

Dana's book list on swoony, sapphic RomComs

What is my book about?

Crushed under writer’s block and a looming deadline, Mack escapes from New York to Seattle. She meets Charlie, a beautiful, generous, nearly bankrupt coffee shop owner recovering from heartbreak. For the first time, Mack has a muse. And then Mack starts using Charlie’s private stories in her novel…

When a storm traps Mack and Charlie in the coffee shop, they share a mind-bending, knee-shaking kiss. But Charlie is an eternal optimist who sleeps with fairy-lights on, while Mack is an ironing-at-5am worrier who sleeps with… everyone. They could never turn this chemistry into something real, right? And if Charlie finds out what Mack has been doing, turning Charlie’s most intimate secrets into a juicy page-turner, will they even have a chance to try?

Not in the Plan

By Dana Hawkins,

What is this book about?

Free-spirited coffee shop owner meets uptight coffee addict. Is an opposites-attract match brewing… or burning?

Crushed under the weight of writer’s block and a looming deadline, Mack escapes from New York to Seattle. She meets Charlie, a beautiful, generous, nearly bankrupt coffee shop owner recovering from heartbreak. For the first time, Mack has a muse. And then Mack starts using Charlie’s private stories in her novel…

When a storm traps Mack and Charlie in the coffee shop, they share a mind-bending, knee-shaking kiss. But Charlie is an eternal optimist who sleeps with fairy-lights on, while Mack is an ironing-at-5am worrier…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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