Since I did a roundup of the 9 Best Apocalyptic Fiction Novels a few weeks ago, I had to follow that up with my picks for best dystopian fiction novels.
As I mentioned in the first post, I draw a distinction between dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. To reiterate, in my opinion, a dystopian novel is one that puts forth the notion of a flawed utopia, which usually occurs after a great disaster. You can normally identify a dystopian by the presence of a strong government or ruler.
Merriam-Webster defines “Dystopia” as:
An imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives. An anti-utopia.
One of the first dystopian novels I ever read, and probably the most famous of the few that existed before The Hunger Games started a dystopian YA fad, is George Orwell’s 1984. 1984 definitely sparked my obsession with dystopian fiction. I’d read The Giver and Among the Hidden by that time, but it wasn’t until 1984 that I knew what these types of books were called and thus how to track down more of them to read. And 1984 also kicks off my list of the 9 Best Dystopian Fiction Novels!
9 Best Dystopian Fiction Novels
1984 by George Orwell
Winston Smith works for the Ministry of truth in London, chief city of Airstrip One. Big Brother stares out from every poster, the Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal. When Winston finds love with Julia, he discovers that life does not have to be dull and deadening, and awakens to new possibilities. Despite the police helicopters that hover and circle overhead, Winston and Julia begin to question the Party; they are drawn towards conspiracy. Yet Big Brother will not tolerate dissent – even in the mind. For those with original thoughts they invented Room 101 . . .
My Take: This is the one that started it all for me. Relatively simple in its composition and ideas, 1984 nonetheless possesses that special something that endures and permeates our culture.
You can read my full review of 1984 here.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. The ‘tributes’ are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.
When 16-year-old Katniss’s young sister, Prim, is selected as District 12’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives. , she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.
My Take: I really enjoyed this series overall. I liked the story, but I also liked that Collins wasn’t afraid to shy away from violence. Once they hit high school, I believe teenagers are old enough to contemplate the big ideas of our world, the pretty and the not-so pretty.
You can read my full review of The Hunger Games series here.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.
My Take: It’s rare these days that a book makes me stop to look up a word, but Divergent made me stop and look up two!! Abnegation and Erudite. This was overall a great series, but I can’t say I saw the direction the third book would take us in and that absolutely shocking death! Also, I’m still a little jealous of how young Roth was when she wrote this and gained international acclaim. Her and Victoria Aveyard.
You can read my full review of Divergent here.
Matched by Allie Condie
In the Society, officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die.
Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one…until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow—between perfection and passion.
My Take: This was a beautifully written series. Most of the books on this list sacrifice more lyrical prose in favorite of plot and action. The Matched series has plenty of plot, a little less action, and plenty of beautiful writing.
You can read my full review of Matched here.
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Ninety-five days, and then I’ll be safe.
I wonder whether the procedure will hurt.
I want to get it over with.
It’s hard to be patient.
It’s hard not to be afraid while I’m still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn’t touched me yet.
Still, I worry.
They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness.
The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don’t.
My Take: I still haven’t finished this series, I just recently picked up Pandemonium. But this was another book I really enjoyed and I’m excited to see where the series goes. It also inspired by my love for this E.E. Cummings poem: [I carry your heart (I carry it in].
You can read my full review of Delirium here.
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.
Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.
But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.
Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.
My Take: This is one of the more recent books I’ve read on my list and one I’ve raved about. I haven’t finished this series yet either, but I will soon.
You can read my full review of Red Rising here.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy. With echoes of Brave New World, in this 1994 Newbery Medal winner, Lowry examines the idea that people might freely choose to give up their humanity in order to create a more stable society. Gradually Jonas learns just how costly this ordered and pain-free society can be, and boldly decides he cannot pay the price.
This is probably truly one of the first dystopian novels I ever read, though I didn’t know it at the time. I often forget about this one when I’m thinking of Dystopian novels. I probably need to do a re-read of this one. I also read Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son, but I remember The Giver as being my favorite of the four.
Uglies by Scott Westerfield
Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. In just a few weeks she’ll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunning pretty. And as a pretty, she’ll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun.
But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to become a pretty. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world– and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally a choice: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. Tally’s choice will change her world forever…
This is a great dystopian series from the pre-Hunger Games craze. Many books on this list came out in the wake of The Hunger Games mania, but this series pre-dates that. This is by far my favorite series by Westerfield.
Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Luke has never been to school. He’s never had a birthday party, or gone to a friend’s house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend.
Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the Population Police. He’s lived his entire life in hiding, and now, with a new housing development replacing the woods next to his family’s farm, he is no longer even allowed to go outside.
Then, one day Luke sees a girl’s face in the window of a house where he knows two other children already live. Finally, he’s met a shadow child like himself. Jen is willing to risk everything to come out of the shadows — does Luke dare to become involved in her dangerous plan? Can he afford “not” to?
I honestly don’t know if I read this or The Giver first, but this is another series I often forget about. Both because I read it so long ago and because it’s aimed at a bit younger audience. I read all the rest of the books in this series and enjoyed them. I should probably reread this as well.
Anything you would add to my list? Leave me a comment below!