Dystopian Novels To Reignite Your Love Of The Genre

by Kerri Jarema

It's the rare bibliophile who did not go through a dystopian book phase at one point in their reading life. For most of us, the post-apocalyptic obsession started in middle school with books like The Giver and continued right on through our teenage and early adult years of the mid-2000s which birthed such pop culture phenomenons as The Hunger Games and Divergent. But after devouring everything from James Dashner to Tahereh Mafi to Marie Lu to Scott Westerfeld, so many of us were just... over it. Readers loved these books and films and fandoms at the time, and may even go back to reread their favorites, but the idea of diving into another dystopian book now or series now? It can lead to some pretty impassioned outbursts of incredulity.

But if readers start to think about what it was they collectively loved about dystopian back in the day — kickass characters, realities that were so likely as to be completely eerie, suspense, romance— they'd find that there are tons of books with those elements that are not the Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth series' of yore. Some of these 13 books are ones you might have missed, while others have only been recently published and there's a mix of YA, literary fiction and even thrillers that will rekindle your love for the genre in a whole new way.

'The Age Of Miracles' by Karen Thompson Walker

On an ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, 11-year-old Julia and her family awake to discover, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life — the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

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'Station Eleven' by Emily St. John Mandel

One snowy night, a Hollywood actor dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time — from the actor's early days as a film star to1 5 years in the future, when a theater troupe known as The Travelling Symphony roams the wasteland — this novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor's first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a self-proclaimed prophet.

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'Ready Player One' by Ernest Cline

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time Wade Watts feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world, based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this prize. If Wade's going to survive, he'll have to confront the real world he's been so desperate to escape.

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'Vivian Apple At The End Of The World' by Katie Coyle

Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed "Rapture," all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn't know who or what to believe. With her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, Vivian embarks on a desperate cross-country roadtrip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivan Apple isn't looking for a savior. She's looking for the truth.

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'The Handmaid's Tale' by Margaret Atwood

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander once a day to walk to markets whose signs are now pictures because women are no longer allowed to read. She must pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived with her husband and daughter; when she had a job, money, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now.

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'The Space Between The Stars' by Anne Cortlett

All Jamie Allenby ever wanted was space. Even though she wasn’t forced to emigrate from Earth, she willingly left the overpopulated, claustrophobic planet. Then the virus hit. Now Jamie finds herself dreadfully alone. Until a garbled message from Earth gives her hope that someone from her past might still be alive. Soon Jamie finds other survivors, and their ragtag group travel through the vast reaches of space, drawn to the promise of a new beginning on Earth. But their dream will pit them against those desperately clinging to the old ways.

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'The Girl With All The Gifts' by M.R. Carey

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her "our little genius." Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh. Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children's cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she'll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn't know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

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'The Circle' by Dave Eggers

When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America - even as life beyond the campus grows distant and a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken. This suspenseful novel raises questions about memory, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

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'American War' by Omar El Akkad

Sarat Chestnut is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, that unmanned drones fill the sky. And when her father is killed and her family is forced into a camp for displaced persons, she quickly begins to be shaped by her experience. Telling her story is her nephew, Benjamin Chestnut, born during war and now an old man confronting the dark secret of his past, his family’s role in the conflict and, in particular, that of his aunt.

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'Gold Fame Citrus' by Claire Vaye Watkins

In a parched southern California of the near future, Luz, once the poster child for the country’s conservation movement, and Ray, an army deserter turned surfer, are squatting in an abandoned mansion. Most “Mojavs,” have allowed themselves to be evacuated to encampments in the east. Holdouts like Ray and Luz subsist on rationed cola and water, and whatever they can loot, scavenge, and improvise. For the moment, the couple’s fragile love, which somehow blooms in this arid place, seems enough. But when they cross paths with a mysterious child, the thirst for a better future begins.

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'The Book of Joan' by Lidia Yuknavitch

In the near future, world wars have transformed the earth into a battleground. Fleeing the violence and the planet’s now-radioactive surface, humans have regrouped to a mysterious platform known as CIEL. Out of the ranks rises Jean de Men, a bloodthirsty cult leader who turns CIEL into a quasi-corporate police state. A group of rebels unite to dismantle his rule—galvanized by the heroic song of Joan, a child-warrior who possesses a mysterious force that lives within her and communes with the earth. When de Men and his armies turn Joan into a martyr, the consequences are astonishing.

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'Bitch Planet' by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro

In a future just a few years down the road in the wrong direction, a woman's failure to comply with her patriarchal overlords will result in exile to the meanest penal planet in the galaxy. When the newest crop of fresh femmes arrive, can they work together to stay alive or will hidden agendas, crooked guards, and the deadliest sport on (or off) Earth take them to their maker?

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'The Only Ones' by Carola Dibbell

Inez wanders a post-pandemic world, strangely immune to disease, making her living by volunteering as a test subject. She is hired to provide genetic material to a grief-stricken mother, who lost all four of her daughters. This experimental work is policed by a network of governmental ethics committees, and threatened by religious zealots. When the mother backs out at the last minute, Inez is left responsible for the baby girl, Ani. Inez must protect Ani, who is a scientific breakthrough, dodging authorities and religious fanatics, while trying to provide Ani a stable home and an education.

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