The best books that depict young people oppressed by dystopian societies

Who am I?

In dystopian societies, which are nothing more than twisted versions of perfection, people are often treated as slaves or children. They are kept from reaching their full potential by the rules and regulations designed to curtail their freedoms in the name of safety. It’s not just fiction anymore. We saw dystopia unfold in 2020. People beat each other up over packages of toilet paper. College kids staged rebellions…I mean spring break…on the beaches. That got me thinking—what does it really mean to grow up? How do young people determine what is responsible behavior and what is selfish? How do they know when to protect themselves, and when to stand up and reclaim their inalienable rights?

I wrote...

Counteract: A YA Dystopian Thriller (The Resistance Series)

By Tracy Lawson,

Book cover of Counteract: A YA Dystopian Thriller (The Resistance Series)

What is my book about?

Still raw from the death of his parents, 18-year-old Tommy Bailey isn't sure if he wants to live - until he meets complex and intriguing Careen. He comes to her aid during a terrorist gas strike, sharing his last dose of an antidote that, they've been told, is key to their survival. Without enough antidote, the teens expect to die. Instead, they discover the terrorist attack wasn't real, and the antidote was never meant to protect them - it was meant to dull their thoughts and make them easy to control. As he and Careen search for the truth, Tommy learns that his parents were operatives in an underground resistance group fighting to overthrow the government. The Resistance expects him to continue his parents' crusade. The government's hunting him down. Which will get to him first?

The books I picked & why

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Little Brother

By Cory Doctorow,

Book cover of Little Brother

Why this book?

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow relays this message: freedom cannot exist in a world that has given in to the fear of terrorism. Main character Marcus is a teen hacker and a gamer who loves to outsmart surveillance technology. While skipping school one afternoon, he finds himself near the epicenter of a terrorist attack. Within minutes of the attack, Marcus and his friends are taken prisoner by “military looking guys.” He later learns they are from the Department of Homeland Security.

Marcus is separated from his friends. During questioning, it becomes clear he is considered a person of interest in the terrorist attack. Completely innocent, Marcus nevertheless refuses to cooperate. He is not allowed to call his parents, who assume he died in the bombing. He is only released after he agrees to sign a form saying he was questioned voluntarily. He is warned to say nothing of what really happened. Upon his return to school, it’s evident the terrorist attack has brought on tyrannical changes that all must now abide by. I loved this book because it frightened me so much. It was believable. I’ve seen firsthand how people respond to “security theater,” and think they are safer when there are security cameras or restrictions. When the true dystopia arrives, the people will embrace it—out of fear of something even worse.


By Megan McCafferty,

Book cover of Bumped

Why this book?

In Bumped, a worldwide pandemic of the Human Progressive Sterility Virus renders the adult population sterile. About three-quarters of teenagers are infected and will go irreversibly sterile sometime between their eighteenth and twentieth birthdays. This changes attitudes about teen pregnancy. The survival of humanity depends on it.

The situation spurs a variety of responses. Trendy stores at the mall sell provocative clothing and “fun bumps,” strap-on bellies that show the girls how sexy they’ll look when pregnant. School clubs put the focus on procreation. The main character’s parents are determined to cash in on their daughter’s great genes and virginity and broker her first child to the highest bidder.

I read this book when my daughter was a teenager. Yikes! I know how much teenagers are influenced by social media, advertising, and their peers. It was horrifying how the government tried to manipulate the teens into having as much sex as they could and to get pregnant as often as they could, while downplaying the teen parents’ natural attachment to their children.  

Missing Pieces

By Meredith Tate,

Book cover of Missing Pieces

Why this book?

In Missing Pieces, marriage partners are matched by science to produce healthy children. There's no room for personal choice or alternative lifestyles. Best friends Piran and Tracy are matched to other people, yet they know in their hearts they’re meant to be together. Are they brave enough to leave everything behind to live the life they want? Missing Pieces depicts a clinical approach to marriage and family and uncompromising attitudes about love and sex. 

I was so engrossed in this book I stayed up all night to finish it! I was completely swept up in the story of Tracy and Piran’s forbidden friendship that ripened into forbidden love. Their whole society was constructed to keep them apart. Matched partners were desperately unhappy, but no one dared speak up for fear of ostracism, disfigurement, and banishment from the community. It seemed like it could never happen—and yet repression and coersion happen in societies all over the world.


By Ayn Rand,

Book cover of Anthem

Why this book?

When you read the opening pages of Anthem, you don’t realize what’s missing from the narration. Neither does the main character, Equality 7-2521. More than anything, he wants to be assigned to the Home of the Scholars and study science. When he is assigned to be a Street Sweeper, he is crushingly disappointed. But he is unable to keep his thoughts strictly collective. When he meets Liberty 5-3000, his desire for her equals his yearning to learn and achieve as an individual.

Anthem is the only book my brother ever read cover to cover in one sitting. Dystopian stories push boundaries to see just how much the characters will endure. This collective society downgrades the worth and the desires of the individual, and as an individual, I find that extraordinarily distressing. 

The Girl Who Owned a City

By O. T. Nelson,

Book cover of The Girl Who Owned a City

Why this book?

Lisa, aged ten, is one of the oldest people she knows. A plague killed everyone over the age of twelve. Without public utilities, services, or adult supervision, the surviving children band together in family groups for protection and must forage and steal to get food and supplies. Lisa makes some unpopular decisions as she struggles to defend her home and the other children in her suburban Chicago neighborhood against marauding prepubescent gangs.

Even though I read this book as an adult, I sympathized with Lisa, who was left orphaned when her parents died in the plague. We all feel overwhelmed and inadequate at times, but I couldn’t imagine shouldering the burdens she carried at such a young age. I couldn’t imagine approaching the age of twelve and wondering if the plague would claim me too. 

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