Monday, July 9, 2012

One Mama's Guide to YA Lit: Dystopian Societies

If the book's plot centers around paranormal teenage romance, aliens, vampires, or some dystopian society it is probably on my reading list.  Don't judge, I read real books too. 

Most of these books fall somewhere in the Young Adult category, but many of them are popular with teens and tweens and contain quite a bit of "adult" content.  I'm not organizing a book burning, but just thought I'd I share a few of my opinions, concerns, rants, and raves about books.  I'm going to divide them up into the following categories: Dystopian society, fantasy/ sci-fi,  and paranormal teenage romance.


From Wikipedia:
dystopia is the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian. Examples of dystopias are characterized in books such as Fahrenheit 451Brave New WorldNineteen Eighty-FourThe Handmaid's Tale,The Giver and The Hunger GamesThe Iron Heel was described by Erich Fromm as "the earliest of the modern Dystopian"[1]. Dystopian societies feature different kinds of repressive social control systems, and various forms of active and passive coercion. Ideas and works about dystopian societies often explore the concept of humans abusing technology and humans individually and collectively coping, or not being able to properly cope with technology that has progressed far more rapidly than humanity's spiritual evolution. Dystopian societies are often imagined as police states, with unlimited power over the citizens. The word derives from Ancient Greekδυσ-, "bad, hard",[2] and Ancient Greekτόπος, "place, landscape"[3]. It can alternatively be called cacotopia,[4][5] or anti-utopia.

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien: After a dramatic climate change, the wealthy retreat inside a walled city.  Those less fortunate are forced to stay outside the wall and live with all the comforts of the the middle ages.  When the lack of genetic diversity eventually causes problems, those inside the wall start claiming babies from outside the wall as tribute.  A young midwife named Gaia challenges the system and of course, falls in love along the way. 
 I've only read the first in the series. I enjoyed it and even though I got a little bored towards the end, I will still read the next one. There was a little mild language and violence. Besides a few kisses, sex is pretty much only discussed in reference to genetics and reproduction. 3 1/2 stars

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau-The City of Ember lies deep below the earth's surface, but their power source is failing and their entire society is doomed.  Love, love, love this series and I feel it's one of the best dystopian series out there (The 3rd one is a little lame-skip it).  I'd feel comfortable recommending it to all but the most sensitive readers. 5 stars

Declaration by Gemma Malley- Vaccines have been developed to eradicate aging, so people can live forever.  To prevent over-population, people must sign a declaration promising never to have children. I actually only read the final  book in the series, and found it thought provoking (would you choose to live forever or have children? Maybe you shouldn't ask yourself until school starts) Other than some violence, I have no real concerns in recommending it.
4 stars

Divergent by Veronica Roth- In post-apocalyptic Chicago, people divide themselves into the factions based on the value they feel is most important: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent).  They live in peace for a few generations until human nature creeps in and sparks an all-out war. I've only read the first in the series, but I really enjoyed it-especially because we recently visited Chicago. 
You may want to read it first, before giving it to a young teen.
In addition to violence and some steamy make-out sessions, the kids are brutal to each other. There is a scene where a girl is attacked and they touch her chest and comment on her lack of curves and another where her towel is stolen and her naked body is mocked. 4 stars

Dark Life by Kat Falls-In the future, earthquakes have caused most of the land to fall into the sea.  "Settlers" are trying to live on the sea floor, but are treated unfairly, by the land-based government and are threaten by a gang of underwater outlaws.  
Since I've always daydreamed about living underwater,  I really enjoyed reading about how they did it and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
Mild violence and G-rated romance. 5 stars

Delirium by Lauren Oliver-A dystopian society based on the idea that love and any strong emotion are the root of all the world's problems. I did think it was weird that they still lived in families.  There's is no way I would want to be a wife and mother if I didn't love my family.  Would you?
 Each 18-year-old must undergo a procedure that will "cure" them from falling in love. Of course, the main character falls in love shortly before being "cured" and joins the movement to overthrow the government. Mild violence and although not described in graphic detail the main characters have sex. I gave the Ist book 3 stars and the 2nd book 4 stars

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card-Classic Sci-fi. He is one of my favorite authors and this is my favorite of all his books.  Genius children are used to fight a war with bug aliens. (it's much better than it sounds)
Violence and some language 5 stars

The Giver by Lois Lowery-This society members experience no pain and don't have to make any choices.  One old man, the Giver, holds all the painful memories and it is time for a young boy, Jonas to take his place.  
Some people don't like the the ambiguous ending, but I heard Lowery speak and she assured the audience that it has a happy ending. 5 stars
*note-she went on to write 2 more books in this series but I didn't love them.  She is releasing #4 in October and I'm excited to see if it lives up to The Giver.
UPDATE: Son  was a nice conclusion to the series, but no where near as good as the first.

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins-Unless you've been living in a cave,you know that it's about children being forced to fight to the death in the sickest reality TV show ever. I love the characters and it is difficult to watch them suffer.  I don't remember any sex or language, but it is extremely and disturbingly violent and there are no happily ever afters.  My daughter's read the entire series, but I think any mother should read them first before deciding if they are appropriate for their children.  5 stars for the first 2 books and 3 1/2 for Mockingjay.

Legend by Marie Wu- Dystopian society divided by wealth.  It's the story of the romance between a teenage boy Robin Hood and a wealthy teenage girl who is the military protege assigned to capture him. Who doesn't love a tali of star-crossed lovers.  A little violent, but fairly clean otherwise. 3 1/2 stars

Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie-A dystopian society where pretty much every major decision is made for you. It's like The Giver  for teenage girls. Great action, romance and a little philosophy thrown in for good measure.  My daughter loves the first 2 books and is anxiously awaiting #3. They are pretty clean, so I don't mind her reading them. 4 stars (my daughter gives them 5 stars)
UPDATE: I read the 3rd and didn't love it.  My daughter didn't even finish it. 

Maze Runner by James Dashner-A boy wakes up with no memory and trapped with a group of children in a giant maze.  Each day they try and find their way out, but are unsure of what they will find on the other side of the maze.  I've only read the 1st, but this series is one of my daughter's favorites.  Violence -mostly against giant slugs and no sex. The kids do use made up swear words. 4 stars (my daughter would give it 5)

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer-The story of a young boy that is created merely to be a clone for the wealthy drug lord. It's about as happy as it sounds. It's pretty dark some kids might find it disturbing.  4 stars

Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
There are no sexually explicit parts, however the basic premise is that Vampires are all suffering from an STD which they are very eager to spread. It's probably not meant for young teens. Each chapter begins with details of actual parasites which I found it fascinating and the best part of the book. 4 stars (I read the second in the series and would only give it 2 stars).

Scored by Lauren Mclaughlin -Kind of like if Grease was set in a Dystopian society, but sans the singing and dancing and if Sandy was only behaving herself b/c electronic eyeballs were "scoring" her every move.  It was entertaining, a page turner, and a great little romance.  However, I'm not sure what I think about it. I think I would rather have my daughter want to be goody-2-shoes innocent Sandy over leather and big-haired Sandy at the end of Grease.  A big moment for the repressed heroine of Scored  (can't remember her name) is when she lets loose and drops an f-bomb.  The male hero of the story swears all the time and has a mini-fridge stocked with beer in his bedroom.  I know this is super-popular with teens, so if you're a mom, read it first and decide if you want your kids reading it or not. It may be good for a kid that is overly concerned w/ grades and test scores. 3 1/2 stars  

The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld- In this society, young people are given plastic surgery to become a "pretty". The final book is the series was really good and it reminds me of blogging. For the most part they were pretty clean. There is some mention of kids sneaking away into a "pleasure garden", but nothing sexually graphic. There is some violence. Substance abuse is also mentioned, but always in a negative light. Overall, I like the message it sends to young girls about beauty. 5 stars for Uglies and Extras and 3/12 for Pretties and Specials

What did I miss? Which one's your favorite?

 I'll write up my thoughts on sci-fi, fantasy and paranormal teenage romance soon.

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Selection by Kiera Cass: After World War IV, North America rebuilds itself as the monarchy of Illea and uses a very structured caste system to keep order.  35 girls are chosen to go to the palace, where the prince will choose who will become his queen. 
It reminded me of the reality show "The Bachelor".  Actually the CW wants to turn the book into a TV series, but apparently the pilot was so bad they are going to re-shoot it, so who knows if it will ever actually make it to air.
Fun, quick read, but is only the first in a series, so don't expect any resolution.  There are some intense make-out sessions, but no one has sex because it is against the law, not necessarily b/c they are waiting until marriage. Overall, it a fun quick read complete with an underdog, a prince, a love triangle, and a little mystery. 4 stars

Under the Never Sky-by Veronica Rossi
Better than your average teenage dystopian book and I will read the next one. Most of society lives in domed cities to protect them from the toxic air and dangerous electrical storms of the world. Aria is exiled and forced to survive in the wild while she tries to find her mother. Of course, she falls in love along the way. PG-13 for violence and pre-marital sex (although not graphic)  I did find it weird (and fairly gross) how in tune w/ her cycle he was.  3.5 stars

Cinder -by Marissa Meyer
A retelling of Cinderella set in a dystopian New Beijing where Cinderella is actually a cyborg. Sound ridiculous?  
 I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked this book. My biggest complaint is that it stops with a complete cliff hanger. It's even pretty clean. 4.5 stars


  1. I'm with you. I love reading what I call "fluff" fiction. My daily life is stressful enough, so when I find a second to actually sit and read I don't really want to have to think too hard. lol
    I have read some of the ones on your list and already have uglies and delirium in my que, but I may have to add city of embers now too.
    I would add Wither by Lauren DeStefano. You might also be interested in if you aren't already a member.

    1. I actually am on goodreads, but I joined Shelfari first and like it a little so I ignore my account. Most of my time reading is spent at one of my kid's practices, so I can't pay attention to anything too deeep. I'm adding Wither to my list. Thanks!

  2. I read historical romances for my escape, the dystopian realities are a bit too upsetting for me, I can't imagine what it will be like once my kids are old enough to read, maybe I just won't read the same things as them:)


    1. I love historical fiction-I think they are a fun way to learn about the past. I keep hoping I can get my daughter to like to read them too, but so far no luck.

  3. Cool. I love book lists. This isn't my favorite genre, but I did really like The City of Ember series. I love when I read a series that my boys will like (or usually they've passed it on to me). I enjoyed the Hungar Games if only because it gave me books to discuss with my YW, and again with my boys. The Giver and Ender's Game are also ones I like, but maybe because they are written by such amazing authors. I'm glad LL said it was a happy ending, I read it that way the first time, but the second time around I wanted to cry.

    1. The other thing LL said is that her mother's Alzheimer's was the inspiration for the book. She couldn't remember that loved ones had already died and it caused her to explore the idea of "What if you could forget all unhappy memories?"
      This is R's favorite genre, but sometimes when I've read a few in a row, they all start running together and I need something without teenagers battling to save the world.

  4. I am a retired 5th grade teacher and the series I read with my students ( two out of four) was Among the Hidden by Margaret Petersen Haddix. It is about a third child born in a state limiting offspring to two. Interesting read for 11 year olds.

  5. I will read just about anything but I really love YA.I have some of those on my To Be Read Pile and I will be adding the ones I don't have!
    I am now a new FB follower!!

  6. Lots of good books in there!!

    Thanks so much for sharing this at The DIY Dreamer.. From Dream To Reality!

  7. Hey! Stopping by from WIWUW at Sugar and Dots. I absolutely love this genre...I really enjoyed City of Ember, The Giver, and the Hunger Games! The Uglies especially sound interesting to me, I might have to pick that up. I studied The Handmaids Tale in university and I loved it. Definitely not a childrens read, but a good story if you like this genre!

  8. Great reads for summer, thanks for sharing at tip toe thru tuesday!

  9. HI, came across this on Pinterested and followed the links. New follower PageGirlsPageofBookReviews