Some days, when the birds are singing, the sun is shining, and the warm breeze is tickling your cheeks, all that good cheer is just the most annoying thing in the world. The Earth is going to hell in a hand basket, and you would prefer to brood in sullen despair in a dark corner of a coffee shop than sit in the damaging UV rays.
What? No? Then neither do I.
Nevertheless, reading through the comments on most YouTube videos, Yahoo News features or any Facebook urban legend meme does make me fear for the future of humanity. It is in these times that I turn to the post-apocalyptic visions of young adult authors for balm and comfort. Or, if not for comfort, at least for reassurance that it could get much worse.
Should you seek such succor yourself (or find that those blasted robin red-breasts and their song-filling colleagues are trumpeting spring’s renewal of life and you are just over it), I present to you my top ten suggestions for you YA dystopian reading pleasure.
10. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff combines war, famine, and an inappropriate love affair between first-cousins. It is not a book for the faint of heart.
9. The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick tells the story of a post-literate society where reading could get you killed.
8. The Giver (series) by Lois Lowry is a classic and is more appropriately categorized as middle grade fiction. However, it is a standard of the genre for young people, and Lowry sets the bar high for her succinct, lyrical world building.
7. Unwind (series) by Neal Shusterman deeply annoyed me for its theology of the body. However, it is a book that annoys me enough to prompt me to re-read it every once in awhile because it makes me think. Shusterman asks questions of a person’s (or a body’s) intrinsic worth, and how that worth diminishes when life is just another commodity.
6. Pure (series) by Julianna Baggott casts humanity as a grotesque menagerie of post-apocalyptic war victims, save the titular “pure” who were spared in a bio-dome. The “pure” for their part, have their own host of issues. If you have made it this far down the list, you may wonder why no one writes stand-alone fiction anymore. My cynical side thinks it’s just a matter of money. On my good days I tell myself that dystopias lend themselves to a subversion of the holy triune formulation, needing at least three books to tell the story well.
5. Matched (series) by Ally Condie is one of several recent series focusing on how love and partnering might look in the ruined future. (Other series that I’ve read in this vein include Divergent by Veronica Roth, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, and to a lesser extend The Selection by Kiera Cass.)
4. House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer bears the distinction of the being the first book to win both a Newbery award and a Printz award. It also spans the ill-defined gulf between YA and middle grade fiction. Farmer masterfully combines drug lords, human cloning, and classical piano in a frightening but still hopeful vision of the future.
3. Blood Red Road by Moira Young takes place in a horrific new dustbowl that makes John Steinbeck look overly optimistic. This book is so high up in the list partly because it gets extra points for including four horsemen marginally related to the apocalypse.
2. Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins is the most popular YA dystopia out there. Its action, suspense, and love triangle . . . make the series a lot like other novels on this list, actually. Collins’ use of bread and circuses entered the cultural milieu at a time and place that made it particularly appropriate, however.
1. Feed by M.T. Anderson was written over a decade ago when the idea of people being constantly connected to the Internet seemed absurd. Now? Not so much. Its futuristic language is jarring at first, but it is worth sticking with the plot. True story: I was recently touring kindergartens in the Boston Public school system (proof positive that the end is indeed nigh, let me tell you.) Some of the teachers used the selling point, “We still use actual books! And the kids do math on paper! They are even allowed to read and do homework in a notebook!” Apparently many children now do homework online, read textbooks solely online, and interact with peers and teachers, while sitting in the same classroom online. I came home and wept bitter tears into the soft folds of Feed’s prophetic pages.
But I tell myself there are still people reading. I tell myself the presence of these books remind us that the vision of the future need not be so bleak. It’s not (yet) the end of the world.