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12 YA Dystopian Novels for the ELA Classroom

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Whether you’re planning a lit circle or you need classroom library recs, I’ve got you covered with this list of YA dystopian novels.

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Last week, I blogged about how to conduct a Dystopian Literature Circle in your classroom, and as promised, here are my recommendations of YA dystopian novels:

Note: If you decide to purchase any of these books for your classroom, please consider using my Bookshop affiliate list. Bookshop’s mission is supporting independent bookstores, and as an affiliate, I receive a small percentage that helps with blog upkeep 🙂

Dystopian Novels for Literature Circles and Beyond:

The Program by Suzanne Young

Sloane knows better than to cry in front of anyone. With suicide now an international epidemic, one outburst could land her in The Program, the only proven course of treatment. Sloane’s parents have already lost one child; Sloane knows they’ll do anything to keep her alive. She also knows that everyone who’s been through The Program returns as a blank slate. Because their depression is gone—but so are their memories.

Under constant surveillance at home and at school, Sloane puts on a brave face and keeps her feelings buried as deep as she can. The only person Sloane can be herself with is James. He’s promised to keep them both safe and out of treatment, and Sloane knows their love is strong enough to withstand anything. But despite the promises they made to each other, it’s getting harder to hide the truth. They are both growing weaker. Depression is setting in. And The Program is coming for them.

(Description from GoodReads)

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

In a world wracked by global warming, most people have lost the ability to dream. The state believes the answer to this loss is inside the bones of Indigenous people, and they try desperately to steal it. This is the world where French and his friends are on the run—they grow as their own family and try to stay away from the “schools” the government has created for their people. And although their government envies and despises them, they work to build a life together. They will stand with, love, and guard each other, no matter the dangers.

We featured this novel in episode #54 of the YA Cafe Podcast.

Want even more Indigenous YA lit? Check out this post!

Orleans by Sherri L. Smith

First came the storms.

Then came the Fever.

And the Wall.

After a string of devastating hurricanes and a severe outbreak of Delta Fever, the Gulf Coast has been quarantined. Years later, residents of the Outer States are under the assumption that life in the Delta is all but extinct… but in reality, a new primitive society has been born.

Fen de la Guerre is living with the O-positive blood tribe in the Delta when they are ambushed. Left with her tribe leader’s newborn, Fen is determined to get the baby to a better life over the wall before her blood becomes tainted. Fen meets Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States who has snuck into the Delta illegally. Brought together by chance, kept together by danger, Fen and Daniel navigate the wasteland of Orleans. In the end, they are each other’s last hope for survival.

(Description from GoodReads)

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

This novel provides a dark vision of the island world of Medio where a wall separates the prosperous inner region from the salted, barren earth of the outer island. Every young man of wealth and means negotiates for two wives – a Primera, who is to be his ambitious, intellectual equal, and a Segunda, who will be the lovely and beautiful opposite of everything he is. Daniela has trained as a Primera in Medio and is set to marry an influential politician’s son. When a rebel organization discovers her biggest secret, she must agree to be a spy in her new household or lose everything she’s worked for.

Can Dani keep her grip on the life she’s always wanted, or will the spiderweb of Medio claim another victim? 

We chatted about this novel on episode #45 of the YA Cafe Podcast, with special guest, author Erin Callahan. You can find the YA Cafe Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts 🙂 

Feed by M.T. Anderson

For Titus and his friends, it started out like any ordinary trip to the moon—a chance to party during spring break and play with some stupid low-grav at the Ricochet Lounge. But that was before the crazy hacker caused all their feeds to malfunction, sending them to the hospital to lie around with nothing inside their heads for days. And it was before Titus met Violet, a beautiful, brainy teenage girl who has decided to fight the feed and its omnipresent ability to categorize human thoughts and desires.

Following in the footsteps of George Orwell, Anthony Burgess, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr., M. T. Anderson has created a not-so-brave new world—and a smart, savage satire that has captivated readers with its view of an imagined future that veers unnervingly close to the here and now.

(Description from GoodReads)

Find these novels and more on Bookshop!

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle, a giver of beauty in the gray world of Orleans. Only sessions with Belles can transform the citizens into anything work looking at – if they can pay for it. Simply being a Belle isn’t enough for Camellia; she also wants to be chosen as the Queen’s Favorite. But when she arrives at Court, Camellia begins to unravel the sinister secrets lurking just beneath the smiling masks. Can she stay true to her dreams while keeping herself safe? Or is it time to forge a new outlook?

Shatter Me by Terhereh Mafi

One touch, and Juliette Ferrars can leave a fully grown man gasping for air. One touch, and she can kill.

No one knows why Juliette has such incredible power. It feels like a curse, a burden that one person alone could never bear. But The Reestablishment sees it as a gift, sees her as an opportunity. An opportunity for a deadly weapon.

Juliette has never fought for herself before. But when she’s reunited with the one person who ever cared about her, she finds a strength she never knew she had.

(Description from BookShop)

Making book recommendations to teens can be tough. I have tips! 🙂

Want by Cindy Pon

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits that protect them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is or destroying his own heart? 

(Description from GoodReads)

Divergent by Veronica Roth

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen.

But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

(Description from GoodReads)

Matched by Ally Condie

In the Society, officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die.

Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one…until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow—between perfection and passion.

(Description from GoodReads)

Uglies by Scott Westerfield 

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. In just a few weeks she’ll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunning pretty. And as a pretty, she’ll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun.

But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to become a pretty. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world—and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally a choice: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. Tally’s choice will change her world forever….

(Description from GoodReads)

Legend by Marie Lu

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

(Description from GoodReads)

Enrichment ideas for independent reading

If you don’t want to host a literature circle, dystopian novels are a splendid choice for independent reading, as they are highly engaging for teens. 

My reading response cards are a fun way to help students understand authors’ choices. They ask students to ponder different settings, character relationships, alternative conflicts and resolutions, and many other “what if’s”. They’re excellent for writing prompts or for classroom discussion.

Abandoned Places Nonfiction Creative Writing – Okay, so, this isn’t a dystopian novel activity, but what fits better with a dystopian theme than real-life abandoned places? This resource asks students to write a piece of flash fiction inspired by a real abandoned location, and I think it could be SO fun to mix and match this with any dystopian novel your students are reading. How would the characters react if they were dropped into this new location? How could the events of the novel have caused this place to become abandoned? The possibilities are endless!

Booktalk Brainstorming Sheet – This FREE activity asks students to create a recommendation of a novel they’ve read. The project requires critical analysis and breaks down talking points by plot, character, conflict, theme, and setting. Students also draw comparisons to other books they’ve read and TV and movies they’ve seen. Rubric included 🙂

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Final thoughts: 

I hope this post gave you some ideas for dystopian novels you can include in your classroom. Whether you’re conducting a dystopian literature circle or adding them to your classroom library, dystopian literature is hugely appealing to teens.

Do you have a favorite MG or YA dystopian novel? Comment below or reach out to me on IG @nouvelle_ela 🙂

Happy teaching!

P.S. If you’d like to support this blog or check out any of these books, here’s my Bookshop list of YA Dystopian Novels! Bookshop supports indie bookstores and I get a small amount from each sale that I use to keep this blog running. 🙂