Can’t seem to get enough of dystopian books for teens? Find out which captivating ya dystopian novels are worth a read.
After compiling a list of dystopian books for adults, I thought it would be fun to look into the best dystopian books for teens.
Although my expertise heavily falls in adult literature, I have a soft spot for young adult fiction. I don’t read it as much as I used to, but when I do, I tend to gravitate toward teen dystopian fiction.
There is something enthralling about the action inherent in YA literature. Since they rely so heavily on plot and emotional drama, it’s easy to be swept away into romance and adventure.
If you are looking to discover the best YA dystopian novels, here are the titles that I’ve loved or am interested in reading.
Rare Standalone Dystopian Books for Teens
The Handmaid’s Tale meets Lord of the Flies in this story set in the male-dominated oppressive Garner county. Every year, all 16-year-old girls are shipped off to spend their “grace year” in seclusion so that their magic will be burned out of them. Before they go, brides are selected by eligible bachelors. Tierney James knows she will never be chosen as a wife, nor does she want to be, and dreams of someday changing this dystopian society. Yet in her grace year, Tierney begins to wonder: Do women even have magic?
Neal and Jarrod Shusterman
For years in California, people have been warned to conserve water because of drought conditions. Father and son authors Neal and Jarrod Shusterman image what would happen if the wells actually ran dry. Quickly, Alyssa’s suburban neighborhood turns into a warzone with people desperate for water. You’ll be struck by how accurately the breakdown of society – hoarding, profiteering, evacuation centers – is laid out in this entirely possible scenario.
Although Cline is rumored to be writing a sequel, for now, Ready Player One is one of the rare standalone dystopian novels for teens. Since real life is a disastrous place, most people spend all their time in the OASIS, a virtual reality realm where you can be anything or anyone. The Oasis’s creator has left the ultimate Easter egg in the program, promising the ability to unlock massive power and fortune. Wade Watts has devoted his teenage life to studying obscure pop culture trivia and stumbles upon a clue that everyone else seems to have missed. Not being a gamer, I didn’t appreciate this story as much as my husband, but I will say that the book was far better than the movie.
Addicting Dystopian Trilogies
Suzanne Collins’s series The Hunger Games has become the shining example of the best teen dystopian novels for good reason. In Panem, all the power and wealth are concentrated in the Capitol while the outer districts are forced into poverty and manual labor. Every year, two youth from each district are chosen in a televised fight to the death. To save her sister, Katniss Everdeen volunteers as this year’s tribute, forcing her to decide what she is willing to do to win. Captivating from start to finish, The Hunger Games has influenced dystopian fiction for teens more than any other book.
In dystopian Chicago, society has been split into five factions each representing a different value – Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, and Erudite. On choosing day, Tris Prior decides to leave the simple altruistic life of her parents in Abnegation to join the fearless defenders at Dauntless. As she goes through a highly competitive competition to win a spot among the new initiates, Tris stumbles onto a much deeper conspiracy. Although the premise gets stranger the longer the series goes on, Divergent is a fun read for teens.
An alien force strategically attacks the Earth in a multi-faceted campaign: cutting off power, causing tsunamis and earthquakes, spreading disease, and invading the Earth. Now the fifth wave is about to begin, with plans to completely eradicate humans. As Cassie sets out to save her little brother from The Others, she meets Evan Walker, another survivor, and must decide how much anyone can be trusted in this post-apocalyptic world. If you want more books like The Hunger Games and Divergent, The 5th Wave is a good next choice.
In a society where everyone can hear each other’s thoughts, Todd Hewitt, the only boy in a town of all men, can tell that everyone is holding something back. Then one day, he discovers something inexplicable in the woods: a girl. The first book in the Chaos Walking series, The Knife of Never Letting Go is set to be the next teen dystopian fiction book to become a movie (starring Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley) if post-production ever finishes.
It feels like a dream: a world with no disease, no hunger, no war, and no death. Humanity has overcome its basest nature and now humans can live forever. Knowing that resources are finite, scythes are entrusted with the ability to kill to maintain population control. When Citra and Rowan find themselves apprenticed to a scythe, they must learn to master the art of death.
In the Society, you are given a perfect life – one where your perfect job, your ideal mate, and all other major choices are decided for you. Cassie is excited to discover her match and is thrilled to see her best friend’s face on her screen. But then another face flashes across the screen, too. Now Cassie must do what she never expected: choose what life and love she wants. If you are looking for dystopian teen novels for a younger audience, Matched is a good choice for tweens.
In this dystopian teen romance, the government has deemed love a health hazard. Once citizens turn eighteen, they under a procedure called “The Cure.” With only a few months until her eighteenth birthday, Lena Haloway is excited for her turn to be initiated into adulthood. Until she meets a mysterious boy from the wild who makes her consider doing the unthinkable – falling in love.
Although best known for her Twilight series, Stephenie Meyer has written a series of dystopian books for teens as well. The world has been taken over by an alien species that takes over the minds of the human inhabitants, leaving the bodies intact. Wanderer is shocked to find her human host body still fighting. Melanie Stryder refuses to relinquish control, filling Wanderer’s thoughts with a boy named Jared who is still in hiding. Now Wanderer and Melanie find themselves reluctant allies trying to find him.
Want Some Grown-Up Choices?
Check Out the Best Dystopian Books for Adults!
Must-Read YA Dystopian Book Series
A genetic twist of fate has split mankind into two castes. The Silvers are the ruling elite, with superhuman powers coursing through their silver-blooded veins. On the other hand, the regular red-blooded humans live as expendable commoners. While working at the Palace, Mare Barrow accidentally discovers she has unimaginable power, stronger than most Silvers. Can she successfully pass as a lost Silver princess or will she be discovered as a spy for the Red resistance movement? Although the later books didn’t live up to Red Queen, I quite enjoyed this X-Men style dystopian series.
Meet Thomas, a boy who wakes up among a group of boys inside a creepy labyrinth with no memory of his past. Every day, runners are sent out through the surrounding maze full of dark creatures desperate to find an escape. Until one day, a girl appears, with a message that time is running out. Let’s face it, this isn’t the best-written series ever. Still, I found myself drawn into the story and can see why they were among the teen dystopian novels to become movies. If you are simply looking for a fun young adult read, give this series a try. Just don’t focus too closely on the glaring plot holes.
Juliette, a girl whose touch is fatal, has been languishing in prison for months, ever since she accidentally killed someone. With the world crumbling, the Reestablishment just threw her in prison and forgot about her. Until the drums of war begin to sound, and someone suggests that maybe Juliette might make the perfect weapon.
Good dystopian books for teens tap into their fears, and Uglies takes a hard look at self-image issues. Tally is thrilled to be turning sixteen soon so she can undergo an extensive procedure that will transform her from an ugly duckling to flawlessly gorgeous. Once you’re a pretty, you are welcomed into a life of luxury and amusement. When Tally’s best friend runs away to avoid the procedure, Tally is recruited to find her, or be refused the surgery herself.
In a nation perpetually at war, two teenagers from opposite ends of society are brought together in a clever game of cat-and-mouse. June comes from the wealthy elite, destined to become one of the military’s top leaders. On the other hand, Day was raised in the slums and has risen to be The Republic’s most wanted criminal. When June’s brother is murdered, Day is the prime suspect and June will do whatever it takes to avenge her brother’s death.
Marissa Meyer’s series The Lunar Chronicles retells classic fairy tales into dystopian books for teens. Cinder is a sixteen-year-old cyborg, hated by her stepmother. Yet she’s the best mechanic in all of New Beijing, a fact noted by Prince Kai when he needs to fix an android. When Cinder’s stepsister falls victim to a plague, Cinder is forced into medical research, where a discovery is made that could change everything. This charming Cinderella retelling is expanded on with sequels correlating to Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel (my favorite), and Snow White.
Prince Maxon needs a bride, so it’s time for the Selection. From around the realm, thirty-five girls are chosen to compete for his hand. After breaking up with her boyfriend, America reluctantly enters the competition. She has no desire to marry Prince Maxon until a chance meeting sparks a friendship between the two. Now, America must navigate her feelings for Maxon and her ex, all while rebels constantly threaten the Palace. Dystopian romance novels for teens aren’t my favorite genre and this series is particularly poorly written. Yet, that didn’t stop me from reading the first three books, so I can see why it has such a large following.
Classic Dystopian Fiction for Teens
One of the most classic dystopian books for middle school is Lois Lowry’s The Giver. In a utopian society, twelve-year-old Jonas is surprised to be given the rare assignment as the Receiver of Memory. He will be given all past memories from his society – a flood of emotions that have been eradicated in his world of Sameness. Slowly, Jonas realizes that perfect order at the cost of individuality is no utopia. A must-read for young tweens.
Orson Scott Card
In a future where humanity is at war with an alien enemy determined to destroy life on Earth, Ender Wiggin is a third child in a family of extraordinarily gifted children. Sent off to battle school at only six years of age, Ender – with his perfect mix of compassion and ruthlessness – is forced to become the military genius humanity so desperately needs. Ender’s Game is an amazing novel and the best dystopian novels for young adults that adults will love, too. Not only is it thrilling enough to intrigue teenage boys who never read but also it’s so packed with complex themes and deeper meanings you’ll want to read it again and again.
1984 is one of the most famous dystopian novels for adults, and I propose that Animal Farm serves as a great companion among the dystopian books for teens. A simple story of the animals revolting against the cruel farmer to set up their own government, Animal Farm is the perfect allegory for the danger of giving up our freedoms for the sake of security. If you’ve ever wondered how a dictatorship comes to be, this classic short novel will show you.
As science and technology can do more and more to improve our lives, how much of our humanity are we willing to give to reach utopia? Huxley paints a frightening picture of a world of total uniformity that will show you the downside of a world without suffering. With complex themes, Brave New World is a great classic dystopian tale for older teens.
In a world where printed books are outlawed, firemen Guy Montag begins to wonder what’s so dangerous about books. Fahrenheit 451 is the classic dystopian teen fiction read in high school. It serves as a warning against the dangers of censorship and the consequences of an addiction to television. In our world of technology, Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel feels rather prophetic.
A few Dystopian Books for Kids
For hundreds of years, the people of Ember have lived in an underground city which is now falling apart. Corruption runs rampant, food supplies are running out, and the power systems are beginning to fail. Two children discover a clue hinting that an exit to Ember exists. Even if they can solve the mystery, they aren’t sure how they will get the citizens of Ember to listen.
L’Engle’s beloved Newberry Award-winning book is a beloved children’s fantasy. The story tells of Meg and Charles Wallace embarking through a wrinkle in time on a quest to find their missing father. There they meet a dark force intent on subjugating them to its will. You’ll either cherish this classic or you might just think it was weird like I did.
What dystopian books for teens do you recommend?