In case you aren't steeped in the world of Young Adult fiction, and you haven't yet been media-assaulted by the phenomenon that is The Hunger Games, dystopian worldview fiction is the new it factor in YA books. Like Twilight was the gateway to YA vampire fiction (and there's scads of it), The Hunger Games is the shining example of what's already been going on in the dystopian sub-genre.
What’s cool about the YA genre exploring imagined government controlled societies is it’s paired with coming-of-age themes and younger characters’ developing worldviews. It’s inspiring to read about teenagers who challenge what they’ve been raised to believe and their struggle in making decisions that affect the rest of their lives. Teenagers are pressured to make good decisions, while at the same time many facets of their life are beyond their control. It’s what makes YA an exciting genre that has increasing crossover appeal to adult readers.
Here are three recent dystopian genre stand-outs:
Legend by Marie Lu incorporates a few familiar elements from The Hunger Games and Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, another top YA title. In Legend, the United States is divided into the Republic of Los Angeles and the Colonies, who are at war with each other. L.A. is divided into sectors, and former downtown L.A. is partially submerged underwater after years of damaging hurricanes. Imagine the desolation from the Fallout video game series and the scavengers who exist within them.
As with many dystopian scenarios, the government in Legend is military-led and severe. June is an orphaned 15-year-old savant who lives with her older brother Metais, a Republic soldier, in a wealthy district. All kids are administered a test called The Trial at age 10 which evaluates intelligence, education, physique and physical strengths. June is the only person so far to attain a perfect 1500 score, and she’s advanced to college-level military traning. When her brother is killed by a rogue dissenter, a boy nicknamed Day whose various property destruction pranks are splashed across giant Republic Jumbo Trons throughout the city, June is recruited early to a military post to help search for her brother’s killer. She finds Day while undercover as a vagabond, and pieces together that he might not be the notorious criminal the Republic makes him out to be. June’s unlikely alliance with Day shows her that the government she believed protected its citizens has dark secrets, and she needs to decide who to trust. This is the first book in a trilogy.
In Ashes by Ilsa Bick, the story is more post-apocalyptic than dystopian (if you want to get specific about categorization) and toys with the idea of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that wipes out use of all electronics, and in turn kills a huge segment of the population. Alex, a 17-year-old orphan (of course) with a brain tumor is out on a solo survivalist camping trip when the event happens. She’s essentially given up on cancer treatments, but soon comes to believe the tumor saved her from the EMP. She encounters other survivors who are divided into two groups: those spared, and others who changed into savage cannibals. Yup, cannibals. If you dig the idea of being alone in the woods and finding a couple of people feasting on a camper, this is the book for you. The author’s military background and fascination with survival tactics keep the story detailed and believable. Alex eventually ends up in a cultish community which protects her but seems more than a bit shady. The story feels a little disjointed, almost like it’s two different books, and it abruptly ends leaving you to wait for book #2. I should mention, just about every new YA book is a trilogy. Be forewarned!
Divergent by Veronica Roth was just named the 2011 Favorite Book on Goodreads, a social networking site for book lovers. Taking the similar concept of dividing a current city (Chicago) into factions and testing kids at a pivotal age (16), Divergent further pushes dystopian society rules by categorizing the factions by virtues: Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, and Erudite. How’s that for a vocabulary challenge. It sounds lofty, but the pacing and action keep the story moving. Beatrice ‘Tris’ chooses the Dauntless faction, which is a surprise to her more passive family (Abnegation = selfless). Tris must endure violent trials and an initiation to prove her worth and loyalty to her new faction. If she fails, she will be shunned by pretty much everyone. Again, as with other stories in this genre, things are not as they seem, and Tris must decide who to trust. Divergent is also the first in a trilogy (what did I tell you?) and it’s worth picking up.
Legend is Marie Lu‘s debut novel and just released on November 29th. Ashes and Divergent published earlier in 2011 and are currently available.