By Grace Harrington
When I attended Westland Middle School from the years of 2013-2016, I read a lot of YA dystopian books. Now that I actually live in a dystopian book, I have composed this highly specific list of Young Adult dystopian books published from the early to mid 2010s that feel all too relatable now. The books are ranked on the middle school YA factor as well as how close it mirrors our reality.
5. The Selection Series by Kiera Cass-
Summary: The Selection series follows a teenage girl, America Singer, as she is chosen for a competition called the Selection in which she competes with girls all around the post-America country of Illea to win the crown prince’s heart. Essentially, this series is the dystopian Bachelor with a fairytale twist.
There are actually two other books in the series, called Heir and Crown, that follow America’s daughter, but we don’t talk about them. (There are also like forty five digital novellas that can be downloaded onto Nooks and Kindles, but I hope no one reaches that point.)
Review: The Selection series is objectively bad. The main character is flat and the plot is tropey and stereotypical. However, just because it’s bad doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading. It’s also entertaining and indulgent enough to be a quick and addictive read (the size 14 font also helps).
Coronaparison: While The Selection can’t really teach us how to survive in a pandemic, it does show the struggle between socioeconomic classes. Illea is divided by the caste system, and the higher castes are more well-off and favored by the government while the lower castes die of disease and starvation. As the Coronavirus exposes truly how lacking the social safety net is in the United States, and how it seems only the rich and famous can be tested for coronavirus while the general population is left to flounder, there are certainly parallels to be seen. Additionally, since our education is screwed for the foreseeable future (rip IB exams), maybe we should all take a leaf out of America’s book and find ourselves rich husbands.
4. The Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth-
Summary: The Divergent Trilogy follows Tris, a teenage girl living in dystopian Chicago. Her world is divided up into factions composed of people who share a dominant trait. When Tris takes the test to find out what faction she should join, she finds out that she doesn’t have one dominant trait, but rather multiple, making her ~divergent~.
Review: The first Divergent book was a solid book. The plot was original and exciting. Definitely not better than the Hunger Games, but still good. Unfortunately, Insurgent and Allegiant flopped. I literally remember nothing from Insurgent. Also, the original idea of being divergent got so contrived the third book was almost unrecognizable compared to the first. Allegiant also introduced different perspectives, just so someone could still narrate the story when (*major spoiler- but you had seven years to read it) Tris died to save her ANNOYING brother whose name I can’t remember because he does NOT deserve to be remembered. What sort of ending is that? An ending for a book that FLOPPED.
Coronaparison: In Divergent there are two narratives: what the government wants you to believe and the truth. The narrative of the government is that to be Divergent is wrong and it must be kept a secret. In reality, being Divergent means that you’re not genetically damaged and have more than one personality trait. Outside of the bubble of Chicago, being Divergent is to be normal. During this pandemic, there certainly is a difference in the narrative of the government and the truth. President Trump claims that chloroquine will be used to treat coronavirus while the FDA says it will not. President Trump also publically dismissed the pandemic for weeks. Now, Trump says that he’s always taken the coronavirus seriously.
3. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel - Station Eleven isn’t trashy YA so it must be demoted. In times like these, trashy = comforting. However, the parallels are ridiculous.
Summary: In Station Eleven, a flu-like pandemic ravages the world and leads to the collapse of civilization. It primarily follows a group of nomadic Shakespeare actors who roam the Great Lakes region post-apocalypse. There are several main characters and storylines, following both before and after the pandemic, that intertwine cleverly.
Review: Station Eleven is a well-thought-out and brilliant book, so it should be read just for that. However, it’s also a haunting glimpse into what the world could be if the coronavirus was more deadly. As it’s not a YA book but rather an adult novel, it certainly contains a higher caliber of writing and can be enjoyed at face value without the premise of nostalgia.
Coronaparison: Hopefully the coronavirus pandemic will never reach the level seen in this book, but there are interesting parallels. The pandemic was a far off-threat until suddenly, it wasn’t. Hospitals are overwhelmed and doctors and nurses are quickly sickened and die from the disease. People panic buy and quarantine themselves in their homes. Airports shut down quickly and people travelling scramble to get home. After the pandemic is over, most of the world population is dead. There are no stores, no electricity, no working technology. Some people lived through the pandemic and remember life before, but society has changed so dramatically. To them, past life seems like a dream.
2. The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins-
Summary: The Hunger Games series is a trilogy centered in the post-America nation of Panem, in which a deadly competition called the Hunger Games is held annually. The series follows a teenage girl, Katniss, who competes in the Hunger Games and then is sucked into leading a revolutionary war against the elites (who live in the Capitol) of her country.
Review: The Hunger Games essentially brought the YA dystopian genre to life. Pretty much all other books from the early to mid 2010s were inspired by the trilogy. I feel like The Hunger Games took the brunt of the hate surrounding the YA dystopian genre because it quickly became oversaturated, but she doesn’t deserve that! The Hunger Games was the trendsetter.
If you reread these books, I think you’ll find that they’re a lot better than you remember. It clearly shows the trauma that Katniss went through, the struggle between the rich and the poor, and the suppression of unprivileged people. Most interestingly, it portrays the reality that Katniss’s role was one of propaganda, orchestrated to win a war bigger than her, rather than an all powerful “chosen one”.
Coronaparison: While the Hunger Games trilogy doesn’t have a pandemic, the politics of the Hunger Games mirror our own. Wealthy elites (such as in the Capitol) look down on the rest of the population, who compose the majority of the country but are still oppressed. The difference between these two populations is exacerbated by the Hunger Games, in which regular teenagers kill each other for the Capitol’s entertainment. The coronavirus has also exacerbated the difference between the elites and the rest of the population. Why is every asymptomatic Hollywood actor or actress able to be tested while regular citizens can only do so on their deathbed in the hospital?
1. The Last Survivor Series (Life as We Knew It) by Susan Beth Pfeffer - The Last Survivor Series has four books, but really only the first book, Life as We Knew It, and maybe the second, The Dead and Gone, should be read.
Summary: In Life as We Knew It, an asteroid hits the moon and essentially upends all life on earth. The weather becomes erratic, crops can’t grow, and natural disasters devastate the country. The book follows sixteen year old Miranda living in Pennsylvania.
Review: This book is interesting and thought-provoking (maybe a little too thought provoking for our current situation). Definitely true YA and true pandemic-like panic.
Coronaparison: This book most hauntingly mirrors our current situation. Miranda lives a normal life, worrying about her grades and her new stepmom, while the news of the asteroid flying towards the moon is barely registered in the background. She doesn’t pay much attention to it, because scientists don’t think that the asteroid will hit the moon. When it does, her life becomes entirely about that catastrophic event. Panic buying, food shortages, and indefinite school, store and job closures ensue. Miranda spends most of the book locked in her house with her family, barely venturing outside or seeing her friends. Sound familiar?