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Four Young Adult Dystopian Novels

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by Jennifer Muirhead (subscribe)
I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma. ~ Eartha Kitt
Published September 30th 2012
Pyramid of Skulls by Paul Cezanne

If you enjoyed The Hunger Games and are looking for something for the same age group that deals with similar themes, here are a few books you might enjoy. They cover different subject matter but they are all dystopian novels which feature young people trying to carry on and maintain their humanity in the face of the end of the world or a ruthless, uncaring government.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

In a future America where abortion is illegal, parents are allowed a chilling alternative. They can have their teenagers "unwound"; taken apart piece by piece for their organs. Technically it isn't killing them because every part of their body remains alive somewhere, but from the point of view of the Unwinds it might as well be death.

Risa is a ward of the State. She is a talented musician but wasn't quite talented enough to be considered worth keeping alive. Connor is a typical teenager whose parents just got tired of his behaviour. Lev is a tithe, raised by his religious fundamentalist parents for the sole purpose of being unwound at the age of thirteen. These three very different teens band together and fight to survive in a world that no longer cares about them as people.

I found the premise quite silly, but once I stopped thinking about how on earth unwinding was supposed to work and how a law like this would ever be passed in the first place and just sat back and got into the story I enjoyed the book a great deal. The characters all felt very real and several scenes were so moving that they made me tear up a little. Unwind is thought provoking and a real page turner. It is the first book in a trilogy. The second book, Unwholly, has been published this year and the third, Unsouled, is due out in 2013.

Rated 9/10

Genesis by Bernard Beckett

Young Anaximander has studied hard to join the Academy and is finally ready to take her examination to see if she can be part of the elite who govern her society. Her specialist subject is the life of Adam, an important figure in the history of her country with whom she has a strange fascination. She believes that she has not been told the whole story about Adam, or about the Academy itself. Her interpretation of certain episodes in Adam's life raise questions about the nature of consciousness and what it means to be human.

This book blew my mind. It is only 150 pages, so if you think it sounds even vaguely interesting, read it! You won't regret it.

Rated 9/10

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Mary lives in a small, rustic village surrounded by a fence, the only thing that separates the villagers from the forest, which is infested with the Unconsecrated, ie. zombies. Mary expects to marry and live a simple life in the village surrounded by her family, but the arrival of a strange girl from outside the fence calls into question all that Mary once thought she knew about her home.

The story is told from Mary's perspective and captures the voice of a confused, lovesick teenager very authentically, which makes it extremely annoying to read. It does contain a few haunting images but Mary's constant whining made it difficult to continue reading. Many interesting questions are raised in the story, none of which are ever answered satisfactorily. Hopefully the sequels will provide some explanations.

Rated 6/10

Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Benny Imura is about to turn fifteen, which means he needs to find a job or have his rations cut in half. Lacking any better options he decides to follow his older brother into the family business - killing zombies.

This book was different from other zombie stories I have read, mainly because of the attitude of the characters towards the zombies. Benny's brother Tom teaches him to treat them with respect since, while dangerous, they are also the remains of somebody's loved ones; this doesn't mean you shouldn't kill them, but they shouldn't be used for entertainment, or left to wander with their hands cut off and their teeth pulled out and other atrocities committed by Tom's fellow bounty hunters. There is even a religious cult who reveres the zombies, whom they call the Children of Lazarus, and tries to protect them from hunters.

Another difference is that for the younger survivors in the book, zombies just aren't as scary as they would be to you or I because they have never known life without them. They accept them as a difficulty to be overcome, and are ready to move on and start to rebuild the world.

One aspect of the book I didn't like was the romance, which felt crow-barred in to the story. There's not much set-up showing the two teens actually getting to know and like each other. Then again, they are teenagers, so maybe it's just supposed to be all hormones.

The Lost Girl who Benny looks for in the wilderness seems to be a tip of the hat towards Temple, the heroine of a similar but far superior zombie story, The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell. If you only have time to read one, Bell's book or this one, read Bell's. Otherwise, enjoy them both and then go on to read the other two books in the Benny Imura series, Dust & Decay and Flesh & Bone.

Rated 7/10
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Why? To be inspired by stories of teens carrying on when it seems like the end of the world
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