A Reading List of Popcorn Dystopia
Classic vs. Modern Dystopia
While dystopia is not a new concept, prevalent as it is in science fiction literature during the post-nuclear era, many young adult authors are taking hold of the genre, making it lighter and using it to explore innovative themes. These are some good choices for books that will be light, fast reading, but will still grab hold of you and make you ponder what life might be if things were different.
Imagine a world without war and without conflict, where everyone is perfect; the story takes place in the near future and shows us a place where everyone is strikingly beautiful. Each child is given the option to undergo cosmetic surgery on their sixteenth birthday, a benchmark important in the life of what Westerfeld calls an “ugly.” Once you have the surgery, you can live in the town across the river where all the post-surgical “pretties” live. The main character of Uglies, Tally is fast approaching her sixteenth birthday when she can get her own surgery and join her friends on the other side of the river, yet something does not seem right. Once Tally starts to question the authority figures who are urging her to have the surgery, things start to look grim. Could there be a world outside of the one she knows?
Westerfeld does an excellent job of pacing the story quickly, making this book an easy read. Told mostly through dialogue with a dash of a fictional language similar to Clockwork Orange, the reader feels as though they have been let into the inner circle of Tally’s closest friends.
Wither by Lauren Destefano
A world that has been cleansed of cancer and disease after using genetically engineered offspring finds itself with a new set of problems. Wither is set in a time after the generation of genetically altered babies grows up and has their own babies. It turns out that these children only live to be 25 if male and 20 if female. Rhine, the story’s protagonist, is taken from the area where she lives with her twin brother and brought to a compound where she is intended to be one of three wives for a man who is losing his beloved wife to the genetic disease. The novel’s tone is immediately dark and disturbing as the situation unfolds, throwing together a clueless young man who is heartbroken with three very different young women along the wealthy man’s father who is determined to cure the genetic disease.
Written from Rhine’s perspective, the novel portrays the world through the eyes of a teenaged girl. It offers some opportunities for lighthearted moments, such as when Rhine gets dressed for a party, discovers the holograms in the complex’s pool, or is conflicted over the feelings she has for both the young man and one of the complex’s servants. The setting offers an interesting theory about genetic engineering and some food for thought about our possible scientific future.
Starters by Lissa Price
Only the very young and the very old have survived a plague that has swept through the world in this dystopian novel. Starters leans toward traditional science fiction with its strong emphasis on technology with its mind-bending gadgetry. The world has been overrun by desperate orphans who are desperate for food and shelter in an uncertain world. The grandmothers and grandfathers of the world control the wealth and government making it hard for the main character Callie to take care of her little brother. When she hears about a deal where she could trade a few days, weeks, or months of her life for enough money to buy a home for her and her brother at a place called Prime Destinations, she’s hesitant. In her desperation, Callie eventually returns to Prime Destinations to take the deal. What Callie could never have known is that once her body is being “borrowed” by a an older woman looking for answers, she would accidentally wake up to discover a secret that could make the entire system crumble.
The setting in this novel is particularly memorable, showing the reader both the squalid surroundings of the orphans living on the street contrasted with the posh extravagance of the well-off. Initially, Starters feels like a scene novel, focusing on the lifestyle that Callie is exposed to once she joins Prime Destinations, but the plot quickly picks up and keeps its momentum when the true conflict is revealed.
Gone by Michael Grant
Everyone over 15 has disappeared in this high-powered dystopian novel by Michael Grant. Once Sam and his friends realize that the adults are not coming back, the children organize the city to provide food, medical attention, and child care for the really small kids. The kids realize that the entire town is encased in a giant bubble of energy and somehow the power plant is at the center of the bubble. Things start to get really complicated when certain kids are revealed to have special powers such as moving things with their mind, healing wounds with their hands, and creating balls of energy or fire.
This action packed story is filled with gripping battles where Sam finds himself to be stepping into the same role of hero that he once did when a school bus was in danger of crashing. Full of fun details about how the children make the best of their situation, taking over the town’s McDonald’s and setting up a daycare for babies, this is a fast read.