The best dystopian books for young adults

The Books I Picked & Why

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

By Carrie Ryan

Book cover of The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Why 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.

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The Aviary

By Emily Shore

Book cover of The Aviary

Why 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!

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The Handmaid's Tale

By Margaret Atwood

Book cover of The Handmaid's Tale

Why 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.

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The 100

By Kass Morgan

Book cover of The 100

Why 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. 

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The Hunger Games

By Suzanne Collins

Book cover of The Hunger Games

Why 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.

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