Dystopian literature remains popular with middle school students… and they can’t seem to get enough of this genre. Why not use these popular titles to run your literature groups?
- eleven sure dystopian novels that your students will enjoy reading, discussing, debating, and analyzing!
- well-known and lesser-known titles for students who want to read more books in this genre
1. Unwind by Neal Shusterman
I love Neal Shusterman. He writes a wide variety of genres — from humor to supernatural. This dystopia book (the first in the series) is a wonderful read for so many reasons:
- timely social and ethical issues
- relatable characters
- fast-paced and compelling
Students cannot help but be pulled into the dilemmas the characters face. In this dystopian world, parents can elect to have their children “unwound” if they cause problems — the plot addresses kids who are escaping from being unwound — where they will go and what will happen if they are caught.
2. City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
My students devoured this instant classic! It’s the riveting story of an underground city — and the lights are going out. How will the city, which is plagued by corruption and fear, be able to find a way out? The main characters, Lina and Doon must work together to solve the mystery of a message left by the founders of the city…and what lies beyond the city.
This book is a fantastic read:
- fast paced
- just scary enough — to make it a page-turner, but not too scary for sensitive students
- has a prequel and sequel that students will want to read
- two protagonists, one a boy and one a girl, work together to solve the problems facing Ember
- great tension! Any second the lights will go out — forever!
3. The Sky Inside by Clare B. Dunkle
Life is great for Martin and his “super baby” sister inside the dome of their neighborhood. Perfect except for the secrets the town holds.
When Martin receives a “pet” dog (robot) for a birthday gift, he soon discovers that it can do amazing things like open doors and talk to other “bots.”
So begins the adventure Martin has with his robot dog Chip as they uncover secrets about the suburbs.
This book is a fun read because:
- Chip, the robot dog, is a lovable character!
- it is fun and fast paced
- the audio version is well done!
4. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
Jenna wakes from a coma and doesn’t know who she is…and as she gradually learns who she is…she isn’t sure she likes what she discovers.
- is similar to Unwind. It addresses questions about medical ethics.
- involves issues middle school students can really grapple with.
- written in first person, so the reader learns about who Jenna is along with her.
5. The Giver by Lois Lowry
This contemporary classic looks asks the reader to consider the value of memories – both joyful and painful – to human beings and a society.
- is an “easy read” so it is accessible for all readers
- addressed complex social issues like euthanasia, aging, and family structure
- leaves the reader with many questions – the ambiguous ending will have your students discussing the book for days to come!
6. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
What if everyone had cosmetic surgery when they turned 16 — and were then deemed “Pretty”? This fantastic novel (the first in a series of four) takes readers on a wild ride into the future where, once you have had your operation to become pretty, interactive closets help you get dressed, parties abound, and life is wonderful… but what really happens with the operation and what if you don’t want it??
- has super-cool futuristic elements with a dark side
- questions societal values
- features creepy, sinister scientists who are intent on making sure the surgeries happen
7. The Silenced by James DeVita
Inspired by the White Rose Society of World War II, this chilling novel is about a totalitarian government and its desire to extinguish individuality.
- has similar themes to 1984
- parallels with real world events – especially WWII
- edge-of-your-seat tension when the subversive group is exposed
8. The Roar by Emma Clayton
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to replace this book because it was so well-read! In the future, people are protected behind a wall to protect them from animals that carry the plague. Okay…well that’s interesting enough, but add to that:
- Milka’s belief that his sister is still living and that the government is hiding her
- violent virtual reality games kids are enticed to play
- a government sponsored “Fit” campaign that Milka refuses to take part in (he is NOT drinking the kool aid!)
9. The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman
This futuristic tale describes a world in the future where the ice caps have melted. The Earth Mother corporation strictly controls everything — from the name you can give your child to what is taught in school.
In this well-crafted novel:
- the parents are the rebels and Honor, the daughter, wants to fit into the rules of school and society
- Honor must re-evaluate her values in order to same her parents who mysteriously disappear
10. The White Mountains by John Christopher
This 1967 classic is the first in the Tripods trilogy. In this pre-industrial, post-apocalyptic world, tripods rule. Humans are “capped” by the tripods when they turn 13 and are essentially turned into slaves. Will, the protagonist, must find a way to escape to the mountains to join a group of free people.
While this book moves a bit more slowly and may take students a bit to get into, the plot is exciting and the themes resonate with readers.
Students love the:
- tension — can Will escape before he is capped by the tripods?
11. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Students love this instant classic! Well crafted, fast paced, intriguing dystopian world — it’s got it all!
- offers so much to discuss! Themes of family, courage, honor, friendship, competition
- so exciting — even if students have already seen the movie, the novel is fantastic!
- strong male and female characters
I hope you can find a few new titles and suggestions for your students from this list!
Ready to incorporate dystopian novels into your book clubs?
Read this post for some great ideas and ways to get your groups started.
If you’re ready to get started and need resource materials that will work with any title you choose, check out my dystopia literature circle resource that you can use with any novel.
What other titles do you recommend to your readers? Let us know in the comments below!