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Life and Literature: Not Mockin’ Ya, More YA Dystopian Novels to Read After the Hunger Games and Co.

by Cameron Steele

Katniss Everdeen was my improbable savior five years ago when I spent three days buried under 19 inches of snow.  I was cold, tired, and unsure if I would survive, but Katniss burned the snow away from my frostbitten mouth so quickly that – even today – I still have scars where my eyebrows should be.

OK, not quite. In real life, my normal eyebrows are really normal. And while I did find myself caught alone in an honest-to-God snowstorm in Virginia, Katniss didn’t save my life. She did, however, set fire to the boredom that had settled under the comforters with me, and I spent my few days without heat, water and electricity with a fresh copy of the first Hunger Games book to read by candlelight.

Five years, two books and three blockbuster movies later, Ms. Everdeen has struck a similar chord with millions. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, the third and second-to-last installment of the movie franchise, debuted last weekend as the top opener at U.S. box offices this year. And Suzanne Collins, Everdeen’s creator, isn’t the only young adult fiction writer to have her dystopian novelscape capture the interest of the masses. March saw Divergent, a movie based on the first book in Veronica Roth’s YA sci-fi trilogy, become a weekend box-office topper. Two months later The Giver, based on Lois Lowry’s 1993 children’s dystopia, was released. 

While these movies are pretty great, and I’m glad my younger cousins are into them enough to read the books, I think the lack of discussion about race and other issues is a big problem. By the time the credits rolled at the end of Mockingjay the fact that there were no major characters of color was gnawing at me. So, I decided to compile a quick list of other YA dystopian novels that haven’t made the silver screen, but do ask for more from their readers in terms of confronting issues of race, gender, environment, and socioeconomics:

  1. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  2. Feed by MT Anderson
  3. Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeiffer
  4. The Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant
  5. The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick
  6. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
  7. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  8. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
  9. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
  10.  The Chaos Walking Series by Patrick Ness

Lots of other people are out there critiquing what the YA novels are getting right or leaving out – and they are doing a great job. Check out this piece in The Atlantic. Or if you’re looking for a more academic take, read this JSTOR Daily recap. This is all to say: go out and enjoy the new Hunger Games movie, but be sure to think critically, and be aware of what else is out there.