You’ve probably read a dystopian novel or two in high school. Remember 1984 and Fahrenheit 451? The dystopian genre gets kids reading a LOT. Although there are more young adult (YA) dystopian novels than middle-grade, don’t worry– there are many great middle grade choices, too. Since this is one of my favorite sub-genres of science fiction, let me introduce you to the best books for your tween children ages 9 – 12.
What is dystopian fiction?
The Oxford Dictionary defines a dystopia as “An imagined state or society in which there is great suffering or injustice, typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic.” In other words, it’s the post-apocalyptic future where things have gone horribly wrong.
Who wouldn’t want to read about that?
Some of the most famous dystopian fiction books include The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Handmaid’s Tale by Margarette Atwood, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. If you haven’t read these adult and YA novels, I highly recommend them.
What is a dystopian book?
A dystopian book is a genre with a society that is the opposite of utopia, the ideal of human life. A dystopian world is a society where humans live in oppression, misery, and deprivation controlled by an oppressive government.
What are examples of dystopian books?
Use this list below to find dystopian middle grade books. Dystopian YA books are more numerous and include these popular books:
– The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
– Divergent by Veronica Roth
– Maze Runner by James Dashner
– The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
– Legend by Marie Lu
– Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Is Harry Potter a Dystopian Book?
No. Harry Potter is a fantasy book.
Why was dystopian literature banned?
I could answer why is anything banned? Book banning is common in a dystopian world, so it’s ironic when a dystopian book would be banned. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was banned for sex and profanity. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury was banned for language. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is banned because of sex and belief system.
Ready to find your next favorite life-after-the-apocalypse dystopian book?
Best Dystopian Middle Grade Books
Escape from Atlantis by Kate O’Hearn
Riley, her dad, her cousin, and her aunt are sailing in the Bermuda Triangle when they’re attacked by a leviathan. Riley and her unpleasant cousin, Alfie, wake up on an island with overly friendly, rule-centered humans and half-animal people. As the kids realize that no one is safe from the feral monsters or the rule-centric community, they become determined to escape. But, how?
The Fog Diver by Joel Ross
In this world, everything is covered by a deadly “fog” that kills, humans live on the highest mountain peaks. Our heroes, a band of scavenging orphans, search for something in the world below that they can sell. They need the money so they can travel to another city to get medical treatment for their cloud-sick beloved mother figure. I loved the suspense, the fascinating world, the characters, and the happily ever after.
The Last Dogs: The Vanishing by Christopher Holt
A fast-paced adventure your kids will love. All the humans have disappeared. But not the dogs or other animals. Max, a yellow Lab, knows that he must find and save his family. From the moment he escapes his kennel at the vet’s, he faces huge obstacles – angry, starving wolves, no food, a gang of subway rats, a house of cats, and the controlling Corporation, a “perfect” society for dogs where everyone works and no one can leave.
Edge of Extinction The Ark Plan by Laura Martin
It’s a dangerous world where cloned dinosaurs have taken over. Sky and her fellow humans live below ground with their supreme ruler Noah. Sky decides to leave the underground city in order to find her missing dad. Barely outside a day, she and her friend Shawn are attached, rescued, and hunted by soldiers. Sky realizes that everything she believed about Noah was wrong and is determined to find her father.
The Monster Missions by Laura Martin
In a post-apocalyptic world covered by water, Berkley gets sent to work on a mysterious submarine to hunt monsters. She loves her new life until pirates hijack their sub. Hiding out with her friends in a storage area, she realizes that the only way to stop the pirates is to use the sea creatures in the aquarium tanks. In particular, the brilliant and mischievous octopus named Elmer. Everything hinges on the plan because her old ship is under attack, and if they don’t get free from the pirates to help, everyone aboard will die.
The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum
Maggie is a middle child in a town that reveres the eldest children. It’s time for her eldest brother to go to “camp” where he’ll be trained to fight in the war. A series of events, including meeting an outsider “Wanderer” girl and the mayor’s strange behavior leads Maggie to realize that the mayor’s selling the eldest children for food and supplies. She’s the only one who knows the truth so it’s up to Maggie to make things right with the friend she betrayed and rescue her brother. Entertaining and suspenseful.
The Neptune Project by Polly Holyoke
When the government cracks down and discovers her mom’s secret lab, Nere learns that her mom has experimented on her and many other kids… so that they can survive underwater. Suddenly Nere has gills and is forced to swim for her life toward the underground Neptune Project. The journey is dangerous and there’s tension within the group. Will they survive the trip, and if they do, to what end?
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Set in a dystopian society, this Newbery medal winner grabs your attention and keeps it until the end. What is going on in this community? When Jonas is assigned his job as “Receiver of Memory” he learns just how much is hidden and controlled. Now he’ll have to decide just what he’ll do with this horrifying information. The entire series is great, but this first book is really a must-read for everyone.
The List by Patricia Forde
Like most dystopian books, this one begins after the cataclysmic event. One man controls the society, including “The List” of 500 words approved for people to speak. (Because words mean dangerous thoughts!) Letta is the Wordsmith’s apprentice. The Wordsmith’s job is to control and manage all the words from now and before. When the Wordsmith disappears, Letta asks a new, dangerous outsider friend to help her find out what happened to her master. She discovers a sinister plan meant to wipe out the community’s language altogether. Will she be able to stop this maniacal plan?
The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier, illustrated by Douglas Colgate
Based on this book, you’d think the zombie apocalypse was totally fun. At least, that’s how Jack approaches life, zombie fights, and survival. He and his best friend, Quint, live in an upgraded, well-defended treehouse where they plan to rescue his crush June (she doesn’t need rescuing, being quite capable) and fight zombies and monsters. Illustrations throughout make this even more appealing to read and imagine. Delightful. Who would have thought?!
96 Miles by J.L. Esplin
“Dad always said if things get desperate, it’s okay to drink the water in the toilet bowl.” Isn’t this a great first sentence to set up an excellent novel? An apocalyptic event has happened, there’s no electricity, the brothers are alone, and their survival supplies are stolen at gunpoint. Now John and Stewart are on the road trying to get to a friend’s ranch for their supplies. It’s not going well–they’ve picked up a girl and her little brother, not to mention Stewart is fighting nonstop with John.
Your Pal Fred by Michael Rex
Fred is a former kids’ toy robot who brings kindness (and STICKERS!) to a war-filled dystopian world– and you will love his genuine good nature and hopeful attitude. When Fred discovers that two warlords are capturing innocent people to fight as soldiers for them, Fred knows what he has to do–ask the two bad guys to try peace. Will Fred succeed on his seemingly impossible mission? Funny, warmhearted, and interesting. One of my favorite dystopian books!
It’s the End of the World and I’m in My Bathing Suit by Justin A. Reynolds
When he’s forced to stay home from the beach party because he needs to do his laundry since every single stinky piece of clothing is dirty, Eddie hurries through the washing with quick cycles–until the power unexpectedly goes out. Eddie leaves the house to investigate and finds four other kids but NO ONE ELSE. No parents. No kids. NO ONE. It’s all very mysterious and suspenseful, especially when the street lights turn back on — without the electricity coming back on. What is going on?
Maximillian Fly by Angie Sage
Although it’s a post-apocalyptic world with an evil ruler who controls the population on the domed city, this story focuses primarily on the blossoming of an abused cockroach/human named Max and the relationship between Max and two young children he rescues then loses again when they’re recaptured by the government where they’re sent to be killed with the other captured SilverSeed kids. It’s a sweet story set in a unique world.
Above World by Jenn Reese
Current humans were created in a lab to live as tech-dependent, animal-morphed groups — mer people, snake people, centaurs, and bird people. Up until now, the four groups have mostly remained separate from each other. The main character, Aluna, a Kampii (mer), has left her clan in order to discover why her clan is dying. She and her unique group of friends try to convince the Equian colonies that the evil Karl Strand is trying to take over Above World. Fun world building dystopian books.
The Maze Runner by James Dasher (ages 11+)
In this dystopian world, kids are either killed or must kill in order to survive. There are tons of plot twists that kept my kids and me surprised and entertained. I didn’t love the last book as much but the first three are compelling, fast-paced adventures.
Shade’s Children by Garth Nix
In this world of evil Overlords, they kill children on their 14th birthday, turning them into hybrid-machine-animal killers. Shade, a holograph projection of his original adult self, guides escaped children to thwart and discover the Overlord’s secrets. But so many children have sacrificed their lives for Shade’s missions — is he everything he says he is?
Freakling by Lana Krumwiede (ages 10+)
What I loved about this dystopian book was the author did an amazing job with the ending – thank you to her for that! Anyway, this is a dystopian novel about a group of people with the power to do things with their minds. It’s a power that can be used for good or bad. Taemon suspects that the leaders of the city are using power for supreme control and evil. It’s a great story, I really enjoyed it.
Variant by Robison Wells (ages 12+)
Variant is a wild ride that keeps you guessing because it defies the stereotypes of typical dystopian novels. Benson feels lucky to attend Maxfield Academy on scholarship only once he gets inside, he’s locked in with the other kids and no adults. Once he figures out what’s happening, he’ll escape or die trying.
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (ages 11+)
Set in Florida, the world has changed into a bleak, crime-ridden place of despair, child labor, and poverty. Our hero, Nailer, scavenges boats for his “crew”. When he stumbles upon a fancy boat and a rich girl, it forces him to reevaluate his life, his friends, and his family, hoping that he won’t always be a ship breaker. Excellent.
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