“Most people don't realize how important librarians are. I ran across a book recently which suggested that the peace and prosperity of a culture was solely related to how many librarians it contained. Possibly a slight overstatement. But a culture that doesn't value its librarians doesn't value ideas and without ideas, well, where are we?”
Neil Gaiman

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Move Over George Orwell, There’s a New Dystopia in Town!

Me & Robin Wasserman at PSLA

Ship Breaker By Paolo Bacigalupi is the 2011 Printz Award Winner and was a contender for the National Book Award.

One of the best genres of literature being written today for YA is the dystopia. I have always loved pondering the future and what our current actions might have upon it and had always hoped there might be more than the old classics to offer a meaty read. Scott Westerfeld hooked me with the Uglies series and I have sought the wide range and variety of dystopias to be found in the YA genre ever since. The amazing, imaginative possibilities that authors are exploring is not only thought-provoking reading, but fun. It holds adventure and mystery and most of it is incredibly well written. So move over Orwell and Huxley, make room on the shelf for some modern competitors!

By Neal Shusterman



Neal Shusterman has written numerous fabulous books for young adults including Everlost, Full Tilt, and The Shadow Club. In Unwind, Shusterman creates a future society in which abortion is no longer practiced but a proportion of its children face a future of being “unwound” before they reach their 18th birthday. The unwinding process is a “painless” process where their bodies are doled out as parts for transplantation. The theory is that through unwinding they are not dying, but living in other bodies. There are a variety of categories for becoming a potential candidate for being unwound. Shusterman’s well-crafted tale focuses on three teens from divergent backgrounds all on the path to unwinding. Fate throws them together and they find themselves confronting the premises of society as they run for their lives.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox
By Mary Pearson



The Adoration of Jenna Fox challenges one of the biggest questions many of us grapple with when it comes to technology and interfering with life – what is it that makes us innately human? Is it a body? A soul? A brain? Jenna Fox is in a terrible car crash. Her father’s company has the biotechnology to “save” her. They cannot save her body. They can only save a small part of her brain. The rest of her is regenerated with biotechnology and computers. This is a clever novel with surprising points raised on both sides of the issue for Jenna and for the reader.

By Robin Wasserman





Robin Wasserman’s trilogy also looks at the idea of bringing back a daughter after a supposed fatal car crash. Robin’s books are far more detailed and actually include some historical research on early robotics. She explores what it is like for a machine trying to be a human and a human trying what the role of emotion plays in making us human. The rich detail in character development, storyline, and detailed description of technology keep the reader enthralled with these books. The biggest thing I like about this innovative trilogy is its an overall fascinating exploration into the potential development of artificial intelligence which provides a great basis for discussion of the topic – plus it’s a fun read!

Chaos Walking Series
The Knife of Never Letting Go

By Patrick Ness



The Ask and The Answer

Monters of Men
, Sept. 2010


British author Patrick Ness has created a future where information is everywhere. Everyone can hear men’s thoughts – there are no secrets. The society that evolves as a result is fascinating as Ness delves into issues of human nature, control, and groupthink. The trilogy starts by introducing the two main characters, Todd and Viola. The middle book sets up two major sides of contention as the story unfolds further and tensions within society build. The final book continues to build the storyline with unexpected twists that lead to a fascinating conclusion. This is a series that will have readers clamoring for more books from Ness in the future. It is full of rich characters and riveting dilemmas about human nature – all the elements of a well-written dystopia in the form of a trilogy. While you can read just one of the books, I highly recommend starting with the first (The Knife of Never Letting Go) and working through all three. It is well worth the effort!

The Forest of Hands and Teeth
By Carrie Ryan



Dawn of the Dead fans will absolutely love this futuristic trilogy! The Forest of Hands and Teeth brings us a future world where a virus has created zombies out of the vast majority of society and it is no longer safe for those unaffected to be near the Unconsecrated, for once bitten, they too will die and become among the living dead. The story takes place seven generations after the original incident, called the Return, in a village walled off by fences to keep the Unconsecrated out. Mary is a teenage girl ready to be betrothed in the upcoming festival. Filled with ideals and romance, her world is shattered while she watches in horror as her mother chooses to join Mary’s zombie father in the Forest by being purposely bitten by the Unconsecrated, rapidly changing over into an Unconsecrated. Mary is sent in shame to join the Sisterhood, the controlling party in the village. As the tale continues to unravel, adventure and mystery are at every turn. While this story keeps you at the edge of your seat, there is plenty left to keep you yearning for the sequel, The Dead-Tossed Waves, released in March 2010 and the upcoming third in the trilogy, The Dark and Hollow Places. And who doesn’t like a good zombie tale?

Naughts & Crosses
By Malorie Blackman



Malorie Blackman’s series is absolutely wonderful. It has had limited exposure in the US and I’m not sure why. It may be because she is a British author and her publisher just hasn’t hooked up with the right American publisher for distribution and marketing. I found Naughts & Crosses and Knife Edge through Junior Library Guild (http://www.juniorlibraryguild.com/). I’ve had fantastic luck with finding high quality books through JLG and can’t understand why more school librarians don’t take advantage of their service. In this dystopia, Malorie Blackman has successfully turned the issue of race right on its end. Black is white and white is black, and before you know it, you are uncertain who is who. She hits racism head on with her characters and uses symbolism deftly. Persephone and Callum are star-crossed lovers in a segregated society. Persephone is a Cross; she is a wealthy dark-skinned and beautiful daughter of the Prime Minister. Callum is a Naught; he is a pale-skinned son of a servant who once served Sephy’s family. As the story unfolds, plot lines of terrorism, racial hostility, and desegregation efforts unravel all intertwined with the incredible love story of Sephy and Callum.

Knife Edge
The follow-up to Naughts and Crosses, Sephy is pregnant with Callum’s baby. The suspense builds as Jude follows her seeking his vengeance. This story continues the tension of racial struggle and moral conflict over terrorism begun in the first book and is no less enthralling. It’s a page-turner right up until the very end! The third book in the series is called Checkmate and is available on Kindle and as an import. It tells the story of Rose as a teen. The fourth and final book, Double Cross, is about a minor character named Tobey from Checkmate and Callie Rose.

The Hunger Games

By Suzanne Collins




Catching Fire

Suzanne Collins Hunger Games trilogy is one of the finest trilogies I’ve read in years. I’m surprised that she was passed over for all of the major book awards, although she has gained multiple Readers’ Choice Awards in local newspapers across the country in addition to the current Hunger Games film project that is being directed by Gary Ross (and certain to be a blockbuster at the theaters) and Mockingjay winning multiple 2010 Goodreads Choice Awards (http://www.goodreads.com/award/choice#winners). So while Collins may not have received that major book award, there aren’t many who don’t regard her or her work as creative genius.

The first novel, The Hunger Games, introduces a future world devastated by war and divided into districts that supply the wealthy Capitol. 16-year-old Katniss Evergreen lives in the poor district of Panem, what was once the United States. Each year, the districts must supply one female and one male to participate in the annual Hunger Games, an event televised for all of the districts by the Capitol. The participants are placed in a game of survivor; it is a true battle to survive where the final one left living is given all the riches. When Katniss’s young sister is chosen, she bravely walks forward in her place, thus unfolding the tale of the Hunger Games. The first book leads naturally to Catching Fire, and likewise to the concluding book Mockingjay. This is a trilogy that will stick with readers and keep them talking long after the final page is turned and is likely to become an enduring classic on the library shelf.

The Maze Runner
By James Dashner




James Dashner’s The Maze Runner is yet another creative and completely different dystopia. For those who really like reading science fiction, this should be a fun read. I love one of the comments Dashner makes in the interview on YouTube via the above link about his love of the book Lord of the Flies and its influence on the book; that was exactly what I was thinking as I was reading it! I kept having this odd feeling like I was dropped in the middle of a world where Lord of the Flies falls into a mad maze with evil aliens…

The story begins with Thomas dropping into a compound from an elevator with no recollection of his past or where he is or where he is from. He finds himself in an odd encampment surrounded by a maze. At night the walls move to enclose them in and protect them from the Grievers lurking beyond the walls. The camp is filled only with boys and during the day some of them run through the maze searching for a way out. Others run the camp with various jobs. From the very beginning somehow Thomas knows he is destined to be a runner, but what danger lies in store for him? This is a cleverly crafted story with surprises at every turn and I am looking forward to reading the next book in the trilogy, The Scorch Trials. I’m sure it will be equally unpredictable!


By Ally Condie



I received an autographed advanced copy of Matched at this summer’s ALA conference. The very first thing that got me excited was the incredibly beautiful cover. I know it’s silly, but I love amazing covers on books. I even bought the British edition of Markus Zuzak’s The Book Thief specifically for the cover. The other thing I was excited about, of course, was getting a signed preview copy of a new dystopia – for free! Yay me!

The future world of Matched is a scary one indeed. If you can imagine a world where everything becomes simplified. All jobs become determined by “ability” as your testing and genetics show you capable of achieving. All clothing becomes mundane and utilitarian, doled out by society so as not to compete with one another. All gardens and lawns, homes and food are regulated so that everyone receives the same equal portions. Even marriage is arranged according to genetic compatibility so that partners are matched to perfection. When Cassia is matched with her best friend Xander only to come home and find another friend Ky flash up on her screen, she finds herself challenging the society she lives in. Condie has created a compelling dystopia and I am looking forward to the next two books in the trilogy. There is certainly much more to work out in this story and it will be exciting to see how it unfolds!

By Caragh O’Brien


Something about the new dystopia lately just begs of multiple volumes. Perhaps the stories are just becoming more complex and detailed, too long for single, short volumes like Orwell's 1984 or Huxley's Brave New World. Birthmarked is the beginning of a trilogy written by new YA author Caragh O’Brien. I first learned about this book via JLG: my same source for Ship Breaker, The Hunger Games, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and The Knife of Never Letting Go – all fabulous books featured in my dystopia blog. That’s exactly why I love the Junior Library Guild -- they never fail to lead me to excellent books for the school library and often long before they've hit other reviews!

I can hardly believe that Birthmarked is a first book for Caragh O’Brien. We are in for some amazing stories from her in the future if this is what she is producing as a first-time writer! Birthmarked is the tale of a future society where the land has become barren and resources have become extremely scarce. A small portion of society has walled up in a contained and self-sustained city full of resources. Poor villages strive to survive outside the walls and ultimately come to an agreement with the walled city to aid in transfer of babies to adoptive parents inside the walls. Gaia, a 16-year-old midwife struggles with moral and ethical dilemmas as she learns more about how her society operates and her own connection to the past. This is a thrilling novel from the very first page to the very last. I had trouble putting it down – I loved the characters and the plot. I am anxious to read the next one in the trilogy!

And finally, this year’s newly announced 2011 Printz Award winner…

Ship Breaker

By Paolo Bacigalupi




I first heard about Ship Breaker at a JLG talk during PSLA last spring. Then when I went to ALA, it was a hot book being looked at with copies being given out on one of the days. I wasn’t able to get a copy at ALA, but did get a copy through JLG. I had already decided to read it after hearing about it the first time at the JLG workshop in the spring prior to its release – dystopias always pique my interest after all! It took me a while to get around to reading it with grad school and my humongous reading list, but once I finally got to it, Ship Breaker did not disappoint me.

Paolo Bacigalupi is a beautiful writer. He develops characters fully, creates emotion, and builds a visionary plot that is so descriptive you feel like you are there. The story is set in a future where resources are scarce, fuel is almost non-existent, and poverty is extreme. Nailer is a young teen who works as a scavenger on a light crew crawling into grounded oil tankers looking for scrap copper wiring. He needs to reach a daily quota in order to survive and fights regular battles with a drunken and drug-addicted abusive father. The agony that Nailer goes through in his relationship with his father is timeless and one that some teens may even identify with, although pray the number is small. One day, Nailer discovers a grounded clipper ship along with his closest friend and must make an ethical choice: save its survivor or strip the ship of its wealth. This is a rich story set in an imagined future that is complex with issues for pondering. The Printz Award is well deserved for Bacigalupi and I am looking forward to hearing him speak at ALA this summer. I’ll post a new review of the book afterward with a photo of us next summer!

As you can see just from the few I've been able to get through in the past few months, the selection of new dystopias available is impressive. There are more out there to conquer and I expect I will be adding them to my blog as I continue to plow through my reading pile. I do still have a rather impressive pile of 17-20 books left to write up reviews for that I've already read...and an endless shelf left to read. But, dear readers, charge forth and pick up a dystopia -- or two or three! They will be a pleasure to read and challenge you to think about possibilities for how we act now and how it might impact future generations.

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