It's Only the End of the World: Dystopian Recommendations
Once upon a time, dystopian was a little known and relatively minimally inhabited genre primarily cohabitation in spaces reserved for horror or science fiction. Then The Hunger Games arrived. Since then, there have been several popular entries into the genre, with notable titles being adapted into films and TV shows- including Divergent and The 100. While these are excellent examples of dystopian reads that I enjoyed immensely, I've found that the further I've gone into the genre, the more I've enjoyed finding books that are both horrifying and uniquely hopeful.
Here are 10 books that you may not have read, as they haven't been adapted (yet!), but are imaginative, frightening, and somehow still leave readers with hope for the future of mankind.
A note: Dystopian fiction is by definition an examination of potential, hopefully, avoidable future in which something has gone terribly wrong and the rules of society as we know it presently have collapsed in some fundamental way. Consequently, the content of these novels may be distressing, and we recommend you proceed with that awareness and consider your own bandwidth for potentially triggering content.
Feed by Mira Grant
Rating: 💀💀💀💀💀/ 5
This is a story about a future without cancer or the common cold- age-old ailments have been cured through scientific ingenuity. Unfortunately, people now turn into zombies when they die- so that's a definite downside. There are a huge number of books about zombies (and no wonder given the psychology behind our interest in the living dead ), and while the genre has been done to death... this is a unique story, and from the first page, it's an exciting ride.
Georgie and her adopted brother Shawn are vloggers. They run towards danger in the name of a good story, and they're beyond ecstatic when they're chosen to follow the presidential campaign. The world-building here is in top form, and the sense of constant danger is inquiry present in that the story proposes that everyone living caries the zombie virus and will in fact become a mindless, brain-eating monster upon death. This makes things like car accidents, and extreme sports more harrowing than they would have been before the rising. Will Georgia and Shawn uncover the corruption still present in the political landscape? Or will they die trying and likely eat the rest of the crew?
This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada
Rating: 💀💀💀💀💀/ 5
In a world where everything about you can be changed, by a simple switch with the panel already growing inside of you. A deadly epidemic is occurring changing people into zombie-like creatures and, without the help of infected human flesh you stand out like a beacon. Cat does what is needed to survive until Cat's dad comes back, but what if he never does? After years on her own when a soldier from the very government Cat hides from shows up to tell her, her dad's dead and only she can save the world. what does she do? Cat is a genetic coding genius taught by her father, so only she will be able to understand what her dad did with the cure. But can she trust the soldier, who obviously is hiding something from her? But saving 3 billion lives is suddenly weighing on her shoulders to make the right decision, but what is the right decision?
From the first page, this book series is non-stop, it has twists and turns that will have you staying late to read just one more chapter. Catarina Agatta is only of my favorite characters of all time, for her simple will to live life on her own terms.
H2O by Virginia Bergin
Rating: 💀💀💀💀/ 5
First, this cover is such a fun idea, and I would highly recommend based on that alone.
This book has a main character that's a lot more relatable than some other dystopian novels. We start off on a casual Friday night, our main character Ruby is out with friends. When the rain is suddenly not just rain. I really enjoy Ruby as our main character because she has no previous experience of surviving on her own. She has to learn it all as she traveling, personally, I think that this makes her a lot more relatable because I don't really have any experience either. You do have to give Ruby a chance and remember that she is in high school and just went through a very traumatic experience.
When drinking water is slowly becoming harder and harder to get and the decisions on how to survive become harder, what decisions do you make? Find a way to survive where she is? or travel across the country to find her father who might be there?
Matched by Allie Condie
Rating: 💀💀💀/ 5
This is a story where the government controls everything that defines who you are. Pills are given at every meal and Cassia would never go against society, until she meets a boy who doesn't follow the rules. You follow Cassia in her story to find out who the government is and how much it controls her life.
This series follows along with the plotlines that a lot of dystopian novels follow. Where the government is in complete control including who lives and who dies, as well as who you are allowed to fall in love with. Then when Cassia falls in love with someone else, she starts to question the government. The love story that is included is a triangle, however, it's not for long, it also is not an instant love type of connection. It does take its time. However, it is fun and an easy read, and the writing is very easy to follow; which is sometimes all that you need.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Rating: 💀💀💀💀💀/ 5
This is a story about a bleak, beautiful future. After a flu wipes out most of society (read at your own risk given the current times), the world is a frightening place, with those holding onto art, light, and the perspective that "mere survival is insufficient" trying to be a light in the darkness. There are entirely unique elements to this book- how many apocalyptic traveling Shakespeare troops have you read about? But the real standout element is St. John Mandel's stunning prose. The lovely, lyrical writing allows for an immersive experience.
This story alternates between two non-linear timelines. The first is before the flu and centers around an artist and her actor husband as their relationship spirals, and eventually ends. We open on the first night of his last performance, at the beginning of the end. The second is a group of nomadic performers, wandering the wasteland and performing Shakespearean plays to keep art, beauty, and storytelling alive in a world where modernity has failed. Will they survive encounters with violent cults? Can anything beautiful survive the apocalypse?
The Grace Year by Kim Liggett
Rating: 💀💀💀💀/ 5
This is a story about a terrifying future in which witch trials are back in fashion, and women are ostracized because of the threat of magic. But the real power of the society in this narrative is the power to impose silence through a sense of impending doom backed by the prevention of knowledge.
Tierney knows that not everyone will survive the grace year and that if she does she'll never speak of it again. She knows because no one does. The imposing silence follows the young girls all the way until they arrive at an encampment in the middle of nowhere- where they'll try to survive threats from poachers, wild animals, and one another. Do the girls have dangerous magic? And how do you stand against a society that has taught you that your existence is inherently violent?
To Be Taught if Fortunate by Becky Chambers
Rating: 💀💀💀💀.☠️ / 5
This is the shortest pick on this list- it's a brief but striking read about what we might do with the future, and how we can learn from the lessons of the past... if we are fortunate enough to be taught.
In a not-so-distant future, mankind has taken to the stars with technology that has allowed for the habitation of planets that can now sustain life. But what happens when the travelers want to return to Earth? Is anyone still home, and are they listening?
The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson
Rating: 💀💀💀💀 / 5
This is about the search for reasons to live in a society that has been reduced to dismissing anything that Doesn’t contribute to survival. This isn’t about a society that attempted perfection and failed, it’s about the collapse of society followed by a rebuilding of sorts- but with pieces missing.
Lynn has almost forgotten about the life before the nuclear war plunged the world around her into winter.. but not quite. She is representative of a split between the before, and the after, but usually she’s too exhausted to think about her place in the world..... until an outsider comes to her small community and reminds her what it’s like to wonder “what if?”
School's Out Forever by Scott K. Andrews
Rating: 💀💀💀💀💀/ 5
This book is an especially dark, bleak entry- but it’s also so much fun. I want to stress that this is not for the faint of heart, it is full of roaming cults, bloody conflicts, and heartrending deaths. Like the prior entry, it is not strictly dystopian in that it examines the ashes of society as it was while leaving the youth in the narrative to contend with what now is. In the hands of a less skilled author, this could be a joyless read; however, it is instead full of humor and character development.
Lee is 15, and if the world hadn’t ended he would probably be concerned about girls, grades and curfew... but as it stands he’s fairly worried about cannibals, cults and whatever remains of the military. He’s wandered back to his school because.. where else is there to go? Will a bunch of schoolboys survive the apocalypse? Or did the lucky ones die early?
Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis
Rating: 💀💀💀💀 / 5
This is a story about a girl with a pond, in a world in a drought. This book doubly serves the purpose of making a statement about resources as a source of power, and the language utilized conveys a sense of thirst and desperation.
Lynn‘s world has only expanded far enough to include her mother and their home. Her few interactions with others are based on necessity and are minimal- there’s no space for such things in a wasteland... but when her mother is lost, she is forced to open her world up to others. Will Lynn find that life doesn’t have to be so dry? Or will she realize that the only way to survive the apocalypse is alone?
Have you had the chance to read any of these?
Do you have a favorite dystopia you don't see here?
Let us know in the comments!