Genre Guide: Cli-fi (Climate Fiction) in YA Lit

Photo Jan 18, 11 07 53 PMClimate fiction (CliFi) books (also known as eco-fiction) are ones that deal with climate change as part of the plot in which the characters struggle to survive. A lot of dystopian novels are clifi books because the breakdown of society is attributed to a catastrophic event like a nuclear war that affects the climate. I wanted to focus here on books where the climatic event was not directly caused by a man-made event like a war, but by nature, for the most part. Not all of these novels are realistic fiction or science fiction; at least one contains fantastical elements as well.

In The Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan (2014), Leilani, Photo Jan 18, 3 35 37 PM16, and Mike, her ecologist father, go to Honolulu for treatment for her epilepsy but when a cloudlike organism appears in the sky after a tsunami, it causes the world to panic and plunges the metropolitan area into chaos. She and her father find themselves detained in an internment camp and struggle to get back to their family on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Photo Jan 18, 1 50 27 PMNatural resources are at an all-time low in 16-year-old Tess’s futuristic world in Georgia Clark’s Parched (2014). Most remaining supplies are funneled into Eden, a walled city of privilege, where she was born, but the citizens who live outside the wall in the Badlands are much worse off. After the death of her scientist mother Tessa decides to combat this inequality by joining a rebel group called Kudzu and uncovers a shocking government plot to carry out genocide in the Badlands using artificial intelligence.

Two weeks after the radio in the United Kingdom started broadcasting the warning, “It’s in the rain. It’s Photo Jan 18, 2 32 17 PMfatal and there’s no cure,” the drinkable water is running out and most of the population is dead in H2O (2014) by Virginia Bergin. Ruby’s one of the survivors and she’s left with two options: persevere on her own, or embark on a treacherous journey across the country to find her father- if he’s even alive.

Photo Jan 18, 3 24 07 PMIn the gritty, post-apocalyptic debut novel, The Ward (2013) by Jordana Frankel, 16-year-old Ren is a tough orphan surviving in a Manhattan ravished by global warming, floodwaters, and a deadly illness called the Blight. She’ll do almost anything to support herself and her dying friend, Aven. She’s working undercover for the hated Governor Voss and his vicious police force, spearheading their desperate search for fresh water. But, she’s not aware of the full extent of the devious Governor’s plans.

In Mindy McGinnis’s Not a Drop to Drink (2013), water is very scarce. Lynn and her mother eke out a Photo Jan 18, 3 37 03 PMhardscrabble existence, protecting their farmhouse and small pond with lethal force against both wildlife and trespassers. After her mother is killed, Lynn befriends a neighbor and some refugees. When they’re drawn into a desperate struggle against raiders who’d steal everything they possess, Lynn discovers just how hard she can fight for those she loves.

Photo Jan 18, 3 29 29 PMAfter the Snow (2012) by S. D. Crockett (2013 Morris Award finalist) features fifteen-year-old Willo Blake, born after the 2059 snows that ushered in a new ice age, as he encounters outlaws, halfmen, and an abandoned girl in his journey in search of his family, who mysteriously disappeared from the freezing mountain that was their home.

Breathe (2012) by Sarah Crossan, explores a dystopian world in which oxygen is a rare commodity, Photo Jan 18, 2 10 30 PMstrictly controlled by the government of a domed city or Pod that houses much of the world’s diminished population. Sixteen-year-old Quinn, a wealthy Premium, and his best friend Bea, one of the city’s many underprivileged Auxiliaries, are about to embark on a camping trip outside the pod when they meet Alina, part of a band of rebels dedicated to replanting trees and restoring the oxygen-rich atmosphere of generations past. All three rotate narrating chapters as they work to stay alive in the deadly outside world and their fragile bond is threatened as tensions rise to the point of all-out war and revolution.

Photo Jan 18, 11 21 05 PMIn Solstice (2011) by P. J. Hoover, teenaged Piper lives in a near future where excessive heat has killed millions and even on normal days students in Piper’s school have to spray themselves with chemical coolants. Austen, Piper’s hometown, is attempting to build large protective spheres to protect its residents. When Piper turns 18 she receives a mysterious gift from a father she’s never met and discovers a universe she never knew existed – a sphere of gods and monsters. While gods battle for control of the Underworld, Piper’s life spirals out of control as she struggles to find the answer to the secret of her very identity.

I’ve only mentioned a few examples of clifi books. Can you think of others?

-Sharon Rawlins, currently reading galley of An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

13 thoughts on “Genre Guide: Cli-fi (Climate Fiction) in YA Lit”

  1. @Erin. Yes, that’s definitely one I should have mentioned (along with the sequels).

  2. I had the Ashfall trilogy in my pile to include but for some reason, I forgot! Thank you Laura for suggesting it.

  3. And don’t forget YA novels turned into YA movies by Hollywood re ”POTUS” offers NOTHING to say about Hollywood and the Cli Fi Movie Awards re alt.Oscars at ”korgw101” in the blogspot arena

  4. And just a note: Paolo Bacigalupi’s new novel for 2015, due out in May, is a YA novel about future water wars in the West and titled “The Water Knife” about so-called “water knives” in the novel who are terrorist who threaten water supplies in a water war between Phoenix and Las Vegas, and this cli fi novel is set to turn American readers upside down once they start reading. It’s his best cli fi effort yet! Get ready…. and yes Mindy McGinnis’s YA cli fi novels rock and I think she will complete them with last of her trilogy soon. Bravo all who labor in the cli fi field! It’s not easy getting people to pay attention but YA is where it’s at!

  5. Thanks, Dan! You’re the expert on Cli fi books since I believe you coined the phrase. Bacigalupi’s new book sounds amazing. Thanks for the update about it and for your support for YA books.

  6. another cli fi YA novel worth checking out excerpts here

    ”Polly and the One and Only World” by Don Bredes

    cPolly and the One and Only World by Don Bredes,

    Green Writers Press, 336 pages.

    In a broken future America, a teenage witch travels from Florida to Vermont to save her kind from a purge orchestrated by a repressive Christian regime. Oh, and she can fly.

    That’s the irresistible premise of Don Bredes’ new novel, Polly and the One and Only World, which draws on influences such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, James Howard Kunstler’s post-peak-oil novels and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy to put a new spin on the thriving genre of young-adult dystopian fiction.

    Vermonters most likely know Bredes for his trio of gritty Hector Bellevance mysteries set in the Northeast Kingdom, or for his screen adaptations of novels by his good friend Howard Frank Mosher. But the Danville author isn’t new to the YA category: His debut novel, Hard Feelings, published in 1977, had a Holden Caulfield-esque teen protagonist.

    Nowadays, dark visions of the future are all the rage in YA, with moviegoers flocking to blockbuster adaptations of Divergent and The Hunger Games. The landscape Bredes describes — ravaged by climate change and the end of the “Oil Age,” sharply divided into haves and have-nots — will look familiar to fans of those books and films, albeit more meticulously realized. The author’s choice of a strong female protagonist lines up with current trends, too. But his portrayal of the antagonist — an imperialist fundamentalist Christianity — has a decidedly progressive slant.

    The story opens with 15-year-old Polly Lightfoot living with relatives in Orlando, in the heart of the Christian Protectorates. She’s been sent there by her father, head of their Vermont coven, to take refuge from the coming purge of infidels. “Ten thousand Home Guard troops were already massed along the shore of the lake from Ticonderoga to Plattsburg, poised to commence the sweep,” writes Bredes. The “Faith and Redemption Amendment” has left all unbelievers “fac[ing] arrest and exile, or consignment to a work camp, or death.”…..

  7. For me, the Monument 14 series by Emmy Laybourne is a great example of CliFi. I highly enjoyed the series.

  8. My addition to this list would be Orleans by Sherri Smith (2013), a dystopian novel that takes place in the coastal South after a series of increasingly destructive hurricanes and features a determined African American young woman as the protagonist.

  9. Thank you Christie & Sue for your great suggestions! I love all these additional books to add to my list.

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