The best female-focused dystopias to make you think deeply about contemporary women’s experiences

Why am I passionate about this?

I recently spent seven years studying the theme of mothers and daughters in dystopian fiction with young adult heroines for my PhD, for which I received a Vice Chancellor’s commendation. I am passionate about interrogating the subthemes and silences in fiction, particularly in women’s writing and stories about female identity and experience. I am also the author of eight published works of fiction, mostly psychological thrillers (often female-driven). My most recent publication is the near-future dystopia The Hush


I wrote...

The Hush

By Sara Foster,

Book cover of The Hush

What is my book about?

Six months ago, in an English hospital, a healthy baby wouldn’t breathe at birth. Since then there have been more tragedies, and now the country is in turmoil. The government has clamped down on people’s freedoms. The prime minister has passed laws granting authorities sweeping powers to monitor all citizens. And young pregnant women are going missing. As a midwife, Emma is determined to be there for those who need her. But when her teenage daughter Lainey finds herself in trouble, this dangerous new world becomes very real…

The Hush is an unflinching look at a society reaching a tipping point and a story for our times, highlighting the power of female friendship through a dynamic group of women determined to triumph against the odds.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Only Ever Yours

Sara Foster Why did I love this book?

In Only Ever Yours, baby girls can no longer be born naturally, and instead they are made in laboratories, and then raised communally in schools.

They are trained in the arts of pleasing men, and some will be selected by eligible bachelors, leaving the rest to become concubines (sex slaves) or chastities (teachers). We follow the story of frieda and her best friend isabel as they go through the final preparations of school and prepare to be chosen. However, when isabel disappears, all of frieda’s loyalties and perceptions of their world will be put to the test.

I have so much admiration for Louise O'Neill's unflinching depiction of the pressures on the young women in this fictional society – the constant obsessions with looks and weight, the way they are taught to be competitive with each other, the slow degradation of frieda’s sense of self.

By manipulating and extending many real-world scenarios, O'Neill exposes the intense pressures and extreme fetishisation of young girls in society. And as for the ending – it’s one you’ll never forget.

By Louise O'Neill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Only Ever Yours as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Utterly magnificent . . . gripping, accomplished and dark' Marian Keyes

WINNER: Newcomer of the Year at the IBAs
WINNER: Bookseller YA Prize
WINNER: CBI Eilis Dillon Award
Buzzfeed's Best Books Written by Women in 2014

The bestselling novel about beauty, body image and betrayal

eves are designed, not made.
The School trains them to be pretty
The School trains them to be good.
The School trains them to Always be Willing.

All their lives, the eves have been waiting. Now, they are ready for the outside world.
companion . . . concubine . . . or chastity
Only the…


Book cover of The Book of the Unnamed Midwife

Sara Foster Why did I love this book?

After a virus decimates the world’s female population, an unnamed midwife must work out how to survive and make her way to safety in a world where women are scarce, and men seek to control the few who are left.

I loved this story for its incredible world-building and the fresh approach to the struggles of a woman trying to exist in a world of chaos, competition, and aggression. I really appreciated the practicalities of survival that the main character prioritises over any sense of idealism or femininity: the novel beautifully casts those themes aside to portray the midwife’s deeper and more profound strengths. 

By Meg Elison,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Book of the Unnamed Midwife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016 and Philip K. Dick Award Winner

When she fell asleep, the world was doomed. When she awoke, it was dead.

In the wake of a fever that decimated the earth's population-killing women and children and making childbirth deadly for the mother and infant-the midwife must pick her way through the bones of the world she once knew to find her place in this dangerous new one. Gone are the pillars of civilization. All that remains is power-and the strong who possess it.

A few women like her survived, though they are scarce. Even…


Book cover of A Single Stone

Sara Foster Why did I love this book?

A beautifully told tale about a group of young girls who work the ‘line’ – squeezing into rock crevices to find the harvest for their community, which is a matriarchal society.

The girls must remain small, and go through years of training, but when Jenna, the leader of the line, moves a single stone, she makes a discovery that threatens all she knows to be true.

McKinlay's clever, understated writing in this YA novel provokes profound questions about how far the leaders will go to protect themselves and their ideals. And the focus on a matriarchal society offers opportunity for reflection on how we interpret and naturalise gender roles and identities. 

By Meg McKinlay,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Single Stone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

In an isolated society, one girl makes a discovery that will change everything — and learns that a single stone, once set in motion, can bring down a mountain.

Jena — strong, respected, reliable — is the leader of the line, a job every girl in the village dreams of. Watched over by the Mothers as one of the chosen seven, Jena's years spent denying herself food and wrapping her limbs have paid off. She is small enough to squeeze through the tunnels of the mountain and gather the harvest, risking her life with each mission. No work is more…


Book cover of The Power

Sara Foster Why did I love this book?

When teenage girls begin to develop a powerful electrical charge in their hands, their new ability turns the world upside down.

They can set things on fire; fight back; hurt; kill. Boys and men are now vulnerable like never before. I love the way Alderman plays this out: society is definitely not an instant utopia now the girls are in charge! This story is a fascinating vision of what might happen if the order of the world were turned on its head, and girls were suddenly the ones with all the power. 

By Naomi Alderman,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Power as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION
ONE OF BARACK OBAMA'S BEST BOOKS OF 2017

'Electrifying' Margaret Atwood

'A big, page-turning, thought-provoking thriller' Guardian

----------------------------------

All over the world women are discovering they have the power.
With a flick of the fingers they can inflict terrible pain - even death.
Suddenly, every man on the planet finds they've lost control.

The Day of the Girls has arrived - but where will it end?

----------------------------------

'The Hunger Games crossed with The Handmaid's Tale' Cosmopolitan

'I loved it; it was visceral, provocative and curiously pertinent . . . The story has stayed…


Book cover of The Handmaid's Tale

Sara Foster Why did I love this book?

Despite the proliferation of YA fiction since The Handmaid’s Tale was first published in 1985, I would suggest that this novel (and its recent sequel The Testaments) is essential reading for anyone keen to understand the way dystopian fiction can elucidate the struggle women have faced for bodily autonomy.

Older generations of readers are probably already familiar with it, but now, particularly as the TV series comes to an end, younger generations may miss this important work. This is the story of Offred, handmaid and slave to her Commander and his wife, in the new world of Gilead, set up to espouse patriarchal religious doctrine and determine women’s status solely by their relationship and service to men.

The handmaids are women who once lived freely in the old America, sometimes with children of their own who have now been removed from them. In Gilead they are reduced to vessels of childbirth, dehumanised, degraded, often tortured or killed for their transgressions.

However, despite enduring all this, and the many betrayals of the powerful women and men around her, Offred retains a spark of rebellion and a determination to save her daughter that will make her risk everything to escape and reclaim her child. 

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 -…


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Split Decision

By David Perlmutter,

Book cover of Split Decision

David Perlmutter Author Of The Encyclopedia of American Animated Television Shows

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a freelance writer from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, specializing in media history and speculative fiction. I have been enchanted by animation since childhood and followed many series avidly through adulthood. My viewing inspired my MA thesis on the history of animation, out of which grew two books on the history and theory of animation on television, America 'Toons In: A History of Television Animation (available from McFarland and Co.) and The Encyclopedia of American Animated Television Shows (available from Rowman and Littlefield). Hopefully, others will follow.

David's book list on understanding the history of animation

What is my book about?

Jefferson Ball, the mightiest female dog in a universe of the same, is, despite her anti-heroic behavior, intent on keeping her legacy as an athlete and adventurer intact. So, when female teenage robot Jody Ryder inadvertently angers her by smashing her high school records, Jefferson is intent on proving her superiority by outmuscling the robot in a not-so-fair fight. Not wanting to seem like a coward, and eager to end her enemy's trash talking, Jody agrees.

However, they have been lured to fight each other by circumstances beyond their control. Which are intent on destroying them if they don't destroy each other in combat first...

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