You’ve probably read a dystopian novel or two in high school. (Remember 1984 and Farenheight 451?) This 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. These are my favorite books to introduce your tween kids (ages 9 – 12) to this addictive genre.
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.”
It’s the future. It’s gone horribly wrong. Who wouldn’t want to read about that?
Best Dystopian Chapter Books for Middle Grade Readers
The Fog Diver by Joel Ross
I just gave this book to a reluctant reader and his mom told me he couldn’t put it down! In this world, everything is covered by a deadly “fog” that kills humans making the humans live only on the highest mountain peaks where there is no fog. 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 to 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. A great series!
The Last Dogs: The Vanishing by Christopher Holt
I drug my heels about reading this book, I don’t usually like books with animal characters. However, from the first page, I couldn’t put it down. Holt is an amazing writer and the story is a fast-paced adventure that your kids will thoroughly enjoy. All the humans have either left suddenly or were rounded up and forced to leave. 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
Action from the first page! This is an awesome story about a dangerous world where cloned dinosaurs have taken over. Now Sky and her fellow humans live below ground in safety with Noah as their supreme ruler. Sky discovers that her missing (maybe traitor?) father left her a secret note with cryptic instructions on how to be found. She decides to leave the underground city in order to find her dad. Barely outside a day, she and her friend Shawn are rescued from hungry dinosaurs by a boy who lives in a treetop enclave. When his enclave is attacked by Noah’s soldiers looking for her, Sky realizes that everything she believed about Noah is wrong and is even more determined to find her father. LOVED it!
The Neptune Project by Polly Holyoke
What a fascinating, compelling story! 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 to meet up with the other kids who are part of the Neptune Project, traveling to where her not-really-dead-after-all father has built an underwater headquarters. The journey is dangerous and there’s tension within the group. Will they survive the trip and if they do, to what end? (The second book, The Neptune Challenge, is also fantastic.)
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 his 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 stories, 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 for rescuing his crush June (she doesn’t need rescuing being quite capable) and fighting 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? An apocalyptic event has happened, there’s no electricity, the brothers are alone, and all their dad and their survival supplies were 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 nonstop fighting with John. If you like survival stories, sibling stories, and adventure, this is a great choice.
Maximillian Fly by Angie Sage
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. These books pack in the action and adventure with such creative storytelling, I highly recommend them!
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 which 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 Freakling 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 mind. It’s a power that can be used for good or bad. Taemon suspects that the leaders of the city are using the 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.