(Im)Perfect Worlds: Teen Dystopias & Post-Apocalypses
A perfect society can prove to be anything but, and sometimes they can fall apart. Check out these titles for examples of worlds that get everything right—and go wrong anyway.
Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony
Worried about her grandfather living alone far from family, Molly’s parents send her to bring him back home to their farm. Molly’s inexperience at traveling is made even more nerve-wracking by tightened border security and disrupted railway lines, but a kind stranger helps her complete her journey. He continues to help her family as she settles into Portland, but his help comes from some shady sources Molly shouldn’t ask about. Each passing day brings more obstacles to returning home, not the least of which is her grandfather’s reluctance to leave.
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacagalupi
Nailer works as light crew, stripping copper wire from wrecked ships along the gulf coast, a dangerous job that could kill him any minute. His luck turns after a hurricane, when he finds a wreck on a nearby island: a clipper ship that hides food, silver--and a girl. The wreck is soon discovered by Nailer’s abusive father and his band of thieves, and Nailer has a choice: hand over the girl, the luckiest of Lucky Strikes any of his crew has ever seen, or take her back to her people, where—she says—Nailer will be well-rewarded.
Candor by Pam Bachorz
Oscar Banks is a straight-A student and Student Council President. All the teens want to be like him. But Oscar knows that the teens of Candor are controlled by subliminal messages—and he has a plan to sabotage the system.
Exodous by Julie Bertagna
In less than a hundred years, the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will speed the greenhouse effect and melt the polar ice caps. The planet will drown. This is the bleak reality of Mara's island community: the sea is rising, and the people on Wing are running out of high ground. Mara has been studying, though, digging through the Weave on her outdated computer, and has found evidence of a new world built high above the ocean. If her people are to survive, they need to move there. But even after the perilous journey is over, they still can't make it past the wall...
The Compound by S.A. Bodeen
When Eli’s family learns that a nuclear bomb has been launched, they have, at most, about 40 minutes to find shelter. Fortunately, Eli's billionaire father saw this coming: he's constructed, and stocked, an underground compound that can support them for the next fifteen years while they wait for the radiation to clear. Now six years in, the food stores have been contaminated—or sabotaged. Dad’s acting a little weird, and his smooth answers about the sporadic internet access seem too rehearsed to be the truth. There's only one way out—and the person who knows it is the one who won't let them leave.
The Unnameables by Ellen Booraem
The foundling Medford Runyuin has a secret: instead of carving dishes and drawer handles like his foster father, he’s been carving Useless Objects, like statues of people and birds. Useless Objects that might even be Unnameable. Unnameable can get you banished, which is why Medford’s been careful to hide his collection. Until the windy night when the Goatman blows in, and the Goatman could destroy everything—both for Medford, and for the rest of the Island.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Fireman Guy Montag understands his job: he’s responsible for burning books that people hide, because books—and knowledge, and intellectual thought—really just make people unhappy. But then Montag meets Clarisse, a young neighbor who is interested in the world around her and wants to share it with him. When Clarisse disappears suddenly, Montag starts hoarding books of his own, even making plans to print new copies of old classics. Can he get away with it? Is there anyone who can help him?
Matched by Ally Condie
When Cassia gets matched on her 17th birthday, she’s thrilled to be matched to her best friend, Xander--and shocked when someone else’s information appears in her Match files the next morning. When an Official corners her and confesses that it was a mistake, that Ky was never meant to be entered in the Match pool, her curiosity is piqued. As she and Ky fall for each other, Cassia bristles under the lack of choices in Society, and begins making some dangerous choices of her own.
Wither by Lauren DeStefano
The First Generations successfully manipulated genetic code to ensure their children had perfect lives, free of cancer and other aging diseases. Two decades later, they learned they’d also unleashed a virus that kills males at age 25, and females at 20. At 16, Rhine has been stolen to be one of three sister-wives to the wealthy Linden, to bear his children to ensure humanity’s survival. Being a bride thrusts Rhine into a life of luxury, but it’s not enough to overcome her desire to escape, even when an attempt could kill her.
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Marcus and his friends are in the wrong place at the wrong time when the Bay Bridge blows up, and they're quickly taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security. When he's released after days of interrogation, Marcus swears revenge. He develops the Xnet, a hidden network accessed through a hack in the XBox console, and uses it to organize protests and sabotage against the DHS. Marcus knows it's only a matter of time until the DHS catches up to him. Marcus values his safety, but he values freedom even more.
The Sky Inside by Clare B. Dunkle
Martin really likes his little sister, Cassie, even though he knows she’s better than he is in every way—she’s smarter, friendlier, and more patient than he is. So when the stranger enters the protective dome of suburb HB1 and takes all the children Cassie’s age and younger away as part of a product-recall on these genetically-engineered kids, Martin knows that he has no choice but to go after her. Not that he knows where to go, besides just out. Cassie may have the brains, but Martin has grim determination on his side—and that will have to be enough to save his sister.
City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Ember has been running smoothly for over 250 years, an oasis of light surrounded by inky blackness in all directions. They have no trouble with food or supplies, and while the city has never been bright, they’ve always had 12 hours of “day” provided by streetlamps. But now it seems that supplies are dwindling, and 12-year-olds Lina and Doon are the only ones who are concerned. But when Lina finds an old paper cryptically labeled “Instructions for Egress,” they know that something is up, and their city is no longer a safe place to live. But can they convince the rest of the townspeople of that? And how do they get out?
(Read more about Ember’s society in The People of Sparks and The Diamond of Darkhold, and the prequel The Prophet of Yonwood.)
The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman
Honor and her parents live on Island 365, where the weather is controlled by the Earth Mother corporation and everyone fits in perfectly. Except Honor’s parents, who refuse to go along with Earth Mother’s rules, and by extension Honor herself. When Honor’s parents disappear, it’s up to her to find out where they’ve gone—and what’s on the other side of the island for those who won’t conform.
Nomansland by Lesley Hauge
Keller is a teenage Tracker-in-training in a society where frivolities and friendships are forbidden. When a fellow patrol-member invites Keller to check out a hidden house from the Time Before, stuffed with Found Objects, Keller is excited but also nervous. When the group starts making more regular trips, Keller goes along but can't shake the bad feeling.
Rash by Pete Hautman
When Bo lets his temper get out of hand, he’s not surprised to find himself serving a 36-month sentence in pizza factory on the tundra. What does surprise him is when he makes the elite factory football team--despite football having been outlawed in the United Safer States of America decades ago. The game gives Bo the outlet he never knew he’d been looking for, but it’s not enough to help him overcome all his fears. There are still those hungry polar bears on the other side of the fence, after all.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Jonas’s world is a happy one: there is no unemployment, no shortage of food, no crime or poverty or discontent. At age 12, he sits on a stage with his classmates and waits for his career assignment. While his friends are assigned various jobs as teachers and janitors, scientists and gardeners, Jonas gets skipped over. But then he gets an unusual assignment: he will be the Keeper of Memories. As he meets with the previous Keeper—now the Giver—Jonas learns many joys and pains that his world has managed to forget. Slowly he understands what this well-ordered society actually costs, and must decide if it’s a price he can afford to pay.
(If you enjoy this, pick up the companion books, Gathering Blue and The Messenger.)
Legend by Marie Lu
June is a military genius, having aced her exams and graduated early from the academy. Her first assignment: track down the elusive Day, the Republic's most-wanted criminal and her brother’s killer. June wants to avenge her brother's death. Day wants to buy the cure to the plague that's ripping through his family's neighborhood. June is about to find out exactly what the Republic government is capable of--and that's something Day has known all along.
The Declaration by Gemma Malley
We’re well into the twenty-second century, and with the advent of longevity drugs, old age is a thing of the past. But with nobody getting older, few if any people die—which means that without population control, the world will become a crowded place. Anna is a Surplus, a child born to parents who signed the Declaration (longevity drugs in exchange for a promise not to have children). But then she meets Peter, a new boy brought to Surplus Hall—a boy who claims to know her parents, and who suggests Anna’s life could be much, much more than it is…
(Older teens who enjoy this might also like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale; younger teens might like the Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix.)
Unidentified by Rae Mariz
Kid goes to school in the Game Center, what corporations turned public schools into when they took over. When Kid witnesses an anti-corporate prank one morning, she’s interested: who would, or could, do such a thing? High-tech security firm Protecht takes notice when Kid starts asking questions about the pranksters, and their branding of her gives her far more social capital than she could have expected. But it also gives her more incentive to uncover the Unidentified--and not for her corporate sponsors.
The Secret Under My Skin by Janet McNaughton
Blay has little past and, as far as she can tell, little future. She lives in the government-controlled work camps, picking through landfills for recyclable bottles and paper, while wearing heavy gear to protect her from the damaged environment. All she knows for sure is that she was brought to the camp after being found on the streets, an apparent orphan born shortly after the technocaust. Blay’s neat, if bleak, world changes rapidly, though, when she is chosen to tutor the new Bio-Indicator Marella. William, Master of the Way, is trying to prepare Marella for her new role, while William’s wife Erica is still deeply involved with the resistance movement. Blay needs to absorb every opportunity she can, if she is to find her place in this household—and in the world.
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Decreased appetite, weight loss, lack of concentration, mood swings: all symptoms of amor deliria nervosa. Lena is looking forward to being Cured, to getting her match, to having her life's choices settled. But just months before she's to get her cure--on the day of her evaluation, when she'll give the panel the information they need to make those decisions for her--she meets the person who will infect her. It's an ancient infection, and deadly dangerous: Lena has fallen in love.
Epitaph Road, by David Patneaude
30 years ago, the Elisha’s Bear virus struck, wiping out 97% of the male population. The female-to-male ratio now stands at about 13 to 1, and Kellen is that one. Now there's another Bear on the way, and it's targeting Kellen's dad's isolated fishing community. Kellen has to warn his dad, but getting there won't be easy--and what he finds when he gets there could mean he'll never get home again.
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
An asteroid is bearing down on the moon—and the school is piling on extra assignments as a result. But then the moon gets knocked closer to the Earth. Tsunamis. Flooding. Mosquitoes. Blizzards. Flu epidemics. The months of isolation, with nothing to do and food supplies dwindling. With all the ash in the air from volcanoes, nothing is growing and outdoor game is starving. There's literally nothing but canned and boxed goods, and when they run out, that's it.
Nation by Terry Pratchett
Mau has just given up his boy's soul and is paddling back to the Nation, where he will be given his man's soul. That's when the wave hits--that all-consuming wave that devours everything in its path, wiping out the entire Nation and killing everyone Mau knew and loved. Mau is alone on the island, but only temporarily—other refugees slowly row up to the Nation's shores. Mau feels responsible for all these new people, and must defend the Nation from the raiders, protect the new refugees, and discover who they can be without the baggage of who they were.
Inside Out by Maria Snyder
Trella is the Queen of the Pipes, able to get nearly anywhere in the Cube via the air ducts. She finds herself knee-deep in conspiracy when she agrees to retrieve information discs for a new prophet claiming to know about the Gateway to Outside. While searching for more information, Trella falls through a vent into a storage room currently being used as a hideout for an Upper-level boy her own age. With little choice but to trust him, she’s launched into an adventure she never could have anticipated.
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Battle Royale is the story of a class of 40 Japanese high school students whose bus gets detoured on a field trip. The students wake up in an unfamiliar classroom and are informed that their class has been randomly chosen for that year’s program, which means they must now kill each other until only one student remains. Each student is given a backpack containing food, water, and a weapon of varying quality (from machine guns to forks) and released. Alliances are made, then broken; friends are betrayed and killed, sometimes intentionally.
The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhaut
His name is Fisher. The world is dangerous. And he’s the only one in it. These are the things Fisher knows immediately on waking up, on being born from the survival pod ages after all the other humans have died. The journey to find any other humans will require Fisher to outsmart robots, evade the deadly gadgets, and win over a colony of warrior prairie dogs—all in a world that has been completely destroyed.
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
At the age of 16, every citizen gets plastic surgery to become Pretty. Pretties live in their Pretty cities and have their Pretty parties, and it’s all pretty great—no worries, no responsibilities, and best of all, no Uglies. But for those few people who don’t want to be made into Pretties, the only option is to leave society all together. Tally Youngblood wants nothing more than to be made Pretty, but her only chance to have the surgery hinges on betraying her friends who have left.
(Tally’s story continues in Pretties, and concludes in Specials; the companion book, Extras, is also available.)