If you haven’t read Suzanne Collins gripping trilogy set in the believably dystopian world of Panem, then you should really stop reading this article right now. Come back after you’ve read the books.
“The Hunger Games” has become such a definitive series for this kind of writing, that it is nearly impossible to have this conversation without it. But when you’ve exhausted the story of Katniss and are ready for another devastating assault on your understandings of social constructs and freedoms, here are some starkly depressing (yet so addictive!) worlds to delve into.
“Divergent” by Veronica Roth (My top pick!)
Beatrice’s world is divided into 5 factions, each of which believes that one trait is superior to all others. In her family’s faction (Abnegation) selflessness dictates how to dress, when to talk, what to eat… But Beatrice finds herself drawn to the daredevil antics of the Dauntless who prize courage. And when Beatrice turns 16 and takes the simulated aptitude test to determine which faction she is suited for, she discovers that her aptitudes cross over those faction lines to Erudite and Amity as well. She is one of the few, feared and dangerous, Divergent. The whispered word is a death sentence if the authorities ever were to discover it, and as Beatrice scrambles to understand this new label and its meaning, she also wrestles with her own identity and the new faction she chooses to the shock of her father. The action is intense and Beatrice is a gripping character, a tough yet real teenager facing her fears with wit and courage. This is not a happy feel-good romance, though there is just enough to sweeten a darkly disturbing story. You’ll eagerly dive into the second book, “Insurgent,” and look for the final book of the trilogy in October, 2013. The film is set to release March 21, 2014.
“Incarceron” by Catherine Fisher
“Incarceron” is more than a prison. It is a living, sentient entity, shifting forms and toying with the multitude of lives trapped in its endless bowels. Legend tells that there was once a man, more mystic than human, who escaped. Finn clings to this legend, certain that he is more than a ordinary cell-born, a product of the prison’s recycled human cells. He is certain that he belongs to the outside, and that his sudden seizures bring real memories, not simply abstract visions of the stars. But the fearsome warden who controls Incarceron from outside, is powerful and clever and will not allow any to dream of escape. Yet his daughter Claudia, promised as a child to the kind prince whose future was blotted out long ago, is not content to accept her father’s secretive role. And when she and Finn discover a mysterious link between their worlds, a dreamlike, nightmarish adventure unfolds before them. Rich, mesmerizing and deliciously disorienting, “Incarceron” is a fresh, creative story. There is one sequel so far, “Sapphique,” with more to come.
“Little Brother” by Cory Doctorow
After a terrorist attack devastates his home town of San Fransisco, Marcus is kidnapped and thrust into a dark and frightening interrogation. But he is being held not by the enemy but by his own Department of Homeland Security, and though Marcus is eventually released, his friend has become one of the disappeared. The DHS crackdown on not only his own liberties but the freedoms of all citizens are chilling in their believability. Marcus is a perfectly depicted, frightened yet stubborn teenager, whose ability with computers allows him to undermine the regime of terror that has been set up for the protection of the public. His determination to find his friend transforms him and his growing underground following of tech-savvy teens into a formidable force. It’s a reassuring story for those who only see the apathy in today’s teens, and the rallying cries to not trust anyone under 21 are, frankly, inspiring.
“Gone” by Michael Grant
When everyone 15 and over disappears one day from their town, Sam Temple finds himself attempting to bring order to a group of terrified and unsupervised children. With his genius friend Astrid and her autistic younger brother, Sam begins to piece together some form of society and to uncover the mystery behind the disappearances. In a moment of failed heroism, he discovers a supernatural ability to shoot beams of light from his hands, and, little by little, more abilities surface in those left behind. They find that there is a kind of force field that seems to encircle the area of the town, and they discover that anyone turning 15 also vanishes. In obvious “Lord of the Flies” parallels, power struggles and survival dominate the landscape while the addition of sci-fi phenomenon create a complex and dizzying storyline. There are five books in the series so far, with more on the way. Sony Television Pictures has acquired the rights to a television series.
“Uglies, Pretties, and Specials” by Scott Westerfeld
These books are a masterfully crafted story, with a heroin beautifully flawed, achingly familiar and inspiringly brave. Not to mention it is a complex and entertaining exploration of almost everything wrong with society. Tally Youngblood spends her nights sneaking out of the dorm for young “Uglies”, illegally spying on the glittering world of the Pretties across the river, and anxiously awaiting the day of her 16th birthday when she can undergo the required operation to become Pretty like them. But when her friend discovers a mysterious rebel society and flees the promised operation to join them, Tally is given a choice. Follow her friend’s obscure directions and lead the Special Circumstances to the rebel’s hideout, or never be given the pretty face she has been waiting for her whole life. As the truth behind the world as she knows it becomes clear to her, Tally’s own values and deep-seated desires are questioned. And for us readers, we are given a clear and piercing mirror reflecting our own dutifully formed beliefs of beauty, identity, self and worth. A fourth book (Extras) was added to the original trilogy in 2007.