Dystopian literature remains popular with middle school students, and they can’t seem to get enough of this genre. Books like The Hunger Games or The Giver have been popular since they first hit shelves.
But putting aside the most popular books in the genre, what other options do we keep in our library? There’s a lot out there to choose from, and if I’m honest, not all of it is worth the space it would take up on your bookshelf.
If your students, like so many others, are itching for more dystopia, what are you going to recommend to them, and how can you get the most “teaching juice” from them?
Why not use these popular titles to run your literature groups or reading challenges?
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Read on to find:
- thirteen 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
After the Heartland War, pro-choice and pro-life groups came to a compromise. Between the ages of 13 and 18, parents can, for any reason, choose to “unwind” their children, surgically breaking down their body parts to be used in later transplants.
Connor Lassiter is a delinquent. Risa Ward is an orphan. Levi Calder is the youngest child of an extremely religious family. All three have one thing in common: they are all scheduled to be unwound. The trio are on the run together. All they can do is try to survive until they can find a safe place to stay, or turn eighteen, when they can no longer legally be unwound.
This book has:
- timely social and ethical issues about children’s rights, personhood, and the value of life.
- relatable characters.
- a provocative story.
- fast-paced and compelling action.
- this is book one in a four book series — which means your students will love knowing what they’ll read next!
Students cannot help but be pulled into the dilemmas the characters face.
Notice: There are moments that may be upsetting or disturbing to sensitive readers, so be sure to include a content warning with this book. (I cried while reading this!!)
2. Brain Jack by Brian Falkner
In the near future, computers are being replaced by neuro-headsets. These allow users to access the internet at a thought. Teenage hacker, Sam Wilson, sees a headset as the best way to let him access anything he wants anywhere on the web. But when he finally gets his hands on a headset, realizes something. If he can access anything connected to the internet, who else can do the same? And with the rise in neuro-headsets, what might happen if someone tried to hack into a person’s brain?
This book is a fantastic read:
- It’s a great introduction to the cyberpunk subgenre.
- It handles ideas of virtual reality and artificial intelligence, both very pressing issues today!
- It’s tense enough to excite your students, but not so much to dissuade more sensitive readers.
3. The Sky Inside by Clare B. Dunkle
Within the suburb of HM1, life is as close to perfect as is possible. The huge glass dome that seals the citizens inside represents safety, security, and comfort. Outside, the poisonous air and desolate land promise nothing but death and suffering. Why would anyone ever leave the neighborhood?
But when Martin receives a robotic dog on his birthday, he begins to notice strange things happening his community. His sister, part of the “Wonder Babies,” genetically engineered genius children, is taken away by the government. Fearing for his sister’s safety, Martin and his dog, Chip, must leave the safety of HM1 to find her. But how can the pair make it across the wasteland that is the outside world?
This book is a fun read because:
- Chip, the robot dog, is a lovable character!
- It is fun and fast paced.
- The reveal that this utopia is actually a dystopia is exciting!
4. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
Jenna Fox wakes from a coma, in a house she doesn’t recognize, in a town she doesn’t know, with parents she can’t remember. In fact, she can’t remember anything about her past. As she struggles to learn the truth of her identity, she finds that she doesn’t like what she’s uncovering. Worse, she realizes that she can’t even trust that the memories she’s starting to uncover are really even hers in the first place. If Jenna can’t trust her own memories, then how can she ever truly know who she is or who she once was?
- Addresses questions about medical ethics, humanity, and how we shape our identities.
- Involves issues middle school students can really grapple with.
- Written in first person, so the reader learns about who Jenna is along with her.
- Another book that is the first in a series — students will want to read the next book!
5. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
For 15 year-old Nailer, an easy life is out of the question. He is a ship breaker, salvaging copper wiring and anything else of value from ancient shipwrecks. After a massive storm rolls across the beach where he lives, Nailer and his friend, Pima, find a massive clipper beached nearby. But when they rescue the sole survivor from inside, they find that she is a “swank,” the daughter of a wealthy family, who could be Nailer’s one ticket to an easy life. But should Nailer take that ticket, or help the girl survive in the cutthroat world she now finds herself in?
- Addresses themes of climate change, family, and loyalty.
- Questions what makes a person human in a world where the protection of civilization is gone.
- Has intense and vivid action that will draw your students deep into the world.
Also, this is a National Book Award Finalist — and first book in a series of three.
6. The Marrow Thieves by Christine Dimaline
Humanity has lost the ability to dream. As a result, madness rages around the world. Only the Indigenous people of North America still have the ability to dream, and their bone marrow holds the cure for the rest of the world’s dreamlessness. But to harvest their bone marrow means killing the “donors.”
Fifteen year-old Frenchie and his friends are on the run from “recruiters,” who want to harvest them for their bone marrow. As they make their way north towards safety, they try to find a way to fight back the marrow thieves for good.
- has similar themes to Unwind of the value of life and personhood.
- Takes a serious look at the continuing history of abuse against Indigenous people.
- Creates an interesting theme about the importance of dreaming and what it means to have dreams.
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.
When the Zero Tolerance Party passes rulings to eliminate individuality and independence, main character Marena fights back. She forms the White Rose to defy the autocratic government and honor her mother’s memory.
- Has similar themes to 1984.
- Parallels with real world events – especially WWII.
- Keeps you on the edge of your seet 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, humans live behind The Wall, a massive barricade mounted with laser cannons and topped with electrified razor wire. This is all in place to keep out the plague carrying animals that wander the blighted landscape.
Almost a year ago, Mika’s twin sister, Ellie disappeared. His parents are convinced that she’s dead, but Mika can’t help but believe that she isn’t. As the government starts picking up mutant children to compete in a violent contest, Mika is convinced that it is the only way to find his sister again.
That’s exciting, but add to that:
- Mika’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 Mika refuses to take part in (he is NOT drinking the kool aid!)
9. Dark Life by Kat Falls
This futuristic tale describes a world in the future where the planet is in chaos. The oceans have risen, and earthquakes split entire continents, resulting in much of the land sinking beneath the waves. The humans that remain on the surface are crammed together, fighting for every inch of space.
Ty and his family are part of the first settlers to leave the surface in favor of establishing a home under the ocean. He meets a young girl from the surface, Gemma, who believes that her brother is somewhere under the sea. But when the pair are attacked by a gang of outlaws, Ty learns that there are secrets in the ocean that might be better left in the dark.
This well-crafted novel has:
- A unique setting. The Benthic Settlement is an interesting blend of familiar and alien.
- Interesting characters. Children born under the sea develop mutations called “Dark Gifts.” Ty’s biosonar comes in handy in exciting ways.
- Themes of environmentalism and cultural identity.
10. The White Mountains by John Christopher
This 1967 classic is the first in the Tripods trilogy.
In the pre-industrial world akin to the Middle Ages, the world is ruled by Tripods, gigantic three-legged machines piloted by aliens. At the age of thirteen, humans are implanted with Caps, devices that suppress free will and individuality. Will Parker is looking forward to his Capping Day, until he meets a strange man named Ozymandias, who has a fake Cap. As Will starts to learn about a world outside the rule of the Tripods, he and his cousin decide to leave their home to try and find freedom in the White Mountains.
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 — if Will or his friends are caught, it’s game over, and they’ll be Capped.
- Unique setting. The Medieval world is a breath of fresh air from the usual fare of the dystopian genre.
- Exciting villains. Giant alien robots are more uncommon in dystopia than they have any right to be!
11. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
A National Book Award winner for a reason! This book is AMAZING!!!
Matteo Alacrán was not born. He was made. He is a clone of El Patrón, the elderly ruler of Opium, a small country between the United States and what was once Mexico. But Matt is not like other clones. El Patrón loves him, more than he loves his own children. But despite being El Patrón’s favorite, Matt is far from safe at the Alacrán Estate. His “family,” the children and grandchildren of El Patrón see him as a monster. And Matt soon comes to realize that the only way for him to truly find safety is to escape Opium. But how can a clone truly be free anywhere?
- Tackles questions of humanity, identity, and personhood.
- Has a diverse cast of heroes and villains.
- Is full of exciting twists and turns that will keep readers hooked to the last page.
Please promise me you will put it on the top of your stack of books to read — today!!
12: Scythe by Neal Shusterman
I know there’s already one Neal Shusterman book on this list, but I can’t help adding this one as well. I am such a Neal Shusterman fan — really, you can’t go wrong with any of his books, but this is another that will instantly captivate your students!
In the near future, death is nearly nonexistent. Disease has been eradicated, and unhappiness is practically nonexistent. The Scythedom has been established, a group tasked with taking lives in order to regulate the population size. Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch are chosen to be apprentices to a Scythe. Neither of them wants this, but to refuse would mean their own deaths. But what does it mean, in a world so full of life, to exist only as an end to that life?
This book has:
- Dual protagonists–Citra and Rowan are both extremely unique characters that are easy to connect with.
- Heavy themes of life and death–what meaning would life have if death didn’t exist?
- Printz Honor–winning book
- First in a series of three that will keep students reading!
13: Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Darrow is a Red, part of the lowest caste of the Society. He is a Helldiver, mining the precious elements that will allow for the terraforming of Mars’ surface. He and his family believe that their sacrifices will one day make a better world for their children.
But they have all been deceived. Darrow learns that humanity completed colonizing Mars centuries ago. Reds are slaves, kept in place with the promise of a better future, while their Gold overlords enjoy every luxury imaginable. Whether out of desire for revenge or a sense of justice, Darrow disguises himself as a Gold to infiltrate their ranks, and tear their Society apart from the top down. Gold will fall, and Red will rise.
This book has:
- Amazing worldbuilding and character development.
- Multiple sequels and prequels that will entice even the most reluctant readers.
- A phenomenal audiobook version that breathes life into the characters in such a unique way.
Content warning: This book has some content that can be upsetting to some students, so I suggest saving it for the more mature students in your class.
I hope you can find a few new titles and suggestions for your students from this list!
I’ve got more suggestions! Find a whole list of dystopian books you’ll want for your classroom library!
Ready to incorporate dystopian novels into your book clubs?
You’ll find ideas and ways to get literature circles going with dystopia titles. Your students will love them!
If you’re ready to get started and need resource materials that will work with any title you choose, you’ll find everything you need in this dystopia literature circle teaching resource.
What other titles do you recommend to your readers? Let us know in the comments below!
And if you need additional support, you can find these resources in my shop!