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Dystopian vs. Post-apocalyptic Teen Books

The Hunger Games series has spawned a slew of new dystopian and post-apocalyptic teen books. I can’t always distinguish between the two types of books because sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. I looked up their definitions and found a great blog post on Bibliotropic on July 5 that really has a great explanation of the differences between the two.

The blog states that “Dystopia is the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian.” Of course! Lois Lowry’s The Giver or Feed by  M. T. Anderson. (Not to mention Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World but I’m only going to focus on current or soon to be published YA books).

Post-apocalyptic is defined as “set in a world or civilization after a disaster such as nuclear warfare, pandemic, impact event, etc.”  These types of books are the ones where the characters are struggling to survive against some kind of cataclysmic event – man vs. nature. These are the types of books that I love reading because they make me feel that as bad as my life might be at times, it’s not nearly as bad as it is in these  novels.

Another clue is that many of the new post-apocalyptic novels seem to have the word “Ash” or “Ashes” in the title. Ilsa Bick’s Ashes (due out in Sept.) is an exciting story of how a teen with a fatal disease & and troubled young army veteran struggle to survive after a massive electromagnetic pulse destroys all electronic devices, kills billions of people, and in the process, creates zombie -like creatures.

The similarly titled book Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari is also about a girl, Lucy, surviving on    her own in the  aftermath of massive deaths after plagues and floods ravage the US. She joins a group of  survivors for safety, but finds herself the target of trackers who kidnap people and infect them with the plague.

Lastly, Ashfall by Mike Mullin (due out in Oct.) features  Alex, alone for the weekend, as he tries to survive after a super-volcano underlying Yellowstone Park erupts and destroys all modern conveniences.

In dystopian YA novels, the future is perfected – badly – but most citizens just accept the status quo, until a young person decides to rebel.  Wither by Lauren DeStefano (a futurist world in which the first generation is almost immortal but in subsequent generations females die at age 20 and males at 25 so girls are forced to become breeders in polygamous marriages) and  Megan McCafferty’s Bumped (it’s 2036 and identical twins rebel against the expectation that they will become fanatically religious wives and mothers or high-priced surrogettes for couples made infertile by a widespread virus). Ally Condie’s Matched (pbk. out in Sept.) and its sequel Crossed (out in Nov.) features a world where death is mandatory at age 80 and teenagers’ marriage partners are predetermined by the Society. In Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, the government believes that love is a disease and 18-year-old teens receive a government-mandated cure to make them happy and safe.

Enclave by Ann Aguirre has both dystopian and post-apocalyptic elements. A  plague years ago has forced people to live in underground enclaves fighting cannibalistic freaks for food. On naming day, at 15, teens’ earn the right to join the group best suited to them – as Hunters, Breeders or Builders. Deuce has lived in the enclave all her life and unquestioningly accepted the word of her elders when they say no one can live Topside. When she’s cast out she realizes the elders lied.

A number of these dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels are on YALSA’s 2011 Teens’ Top Ten and 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults nominations lists.  I only had room to mention a few of the many dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels out there right now (Divergent by Veronica Roth is one I love that I could have included). Michael Cart’s column, Carte Blanche, in the November 15, 2010 Booklist featured Patrick Ness’ terrific Chaos Walking series).

Feel free to comment with your own favorites!

– Sharon Rawlins, currently reading galley of Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan


  1. My daughter hates when I use the term dystopia. She says kids don’t care, just as long as it’s good. Both her and I LOVED Delirium and only liked Matched. Was looking at Enclave for an all school read. Wish it was in paperback!

  2. I’m glad that post helped clarify things a little for you. :) And I greatly appreciate the link back to my blog!

    Happy reading!

  3. Sharon Rawlins Sharon Rawlins

    @Bibliotropic Love your blog! We have the same taste in books.

  4. Would you consider Hunger Games both dystopian and post-apocalyptic? It takes places after a major disaster, and the Capitol is creating its own government oriented “utopia.” I think some series are easily placed in each category (thanks for clarifying them!), while others, like HG, kind of sink into both. Of the recent series I’ve read, I really enjoyed Delirium and Enclave. Matched I thought to be just okay. Divergent is next on my list!

  5. Sharon Rawlins Sharon Rawlins

    @Lauren – Yes, based on what I’ve read, I’d definitely consider HG both dystopian and post-apocalytic. A lot of the teens I’ve given Enclave to have really liked it. I’m looking forward to the sequel Outpost in fall of 2012. I hope you like Divergent. It’s very much in the same vein as HG and Enclave and, I think, just as appealing and well-written as any of the HG series.

  6. Jon Jon

    Are you kidding? Anyone with a reading age above 10 should know what dystopia and post-apocalyptic mean. The fact you had to look it up shocks me.

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