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, The 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.
Ready to find your next favorite life-after-the-apocalypse dystopian book? These are all books that I’ve read and recommend to children. My reviews are not copied from the publisher’s description but written organically to help you pick your next favorite book.
How to Use Dystopian Books with Middle Grade Readers
Have discussions to ponder the complexity of a dystopian world– and your thoughts about how you would survive it.
What topics can you discuss?
Topics can include government control, humanity, individualism, conformity, utopia, rules and laws.
Dystopian Middle Grade Books
Escape from Atlantis is written by Kate O’Hearn and published by Aladdin.
This story is SO exciting! 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 is written by Joel Ross and published by HarperCollins.
In this world, everything is covered by a deadly “fog” that kills and 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 is written by Christopher Holt and published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers.
If you love dogs and fast-paced adventures, you will love this dystopian middle grade series. 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.
BUY THIS BOOK ON AMAZON.
Edge of Extinction The Ark Plan is written by Laura Martin and published by HarperCollins.
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 believes about Noah is wrong! Now, she knows she can’t return to the underground and that she must find her father.
The Monster Missions is written by Laura Martin and published by HarperCollins.
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 is written by Kirsty Applebaum and published by Henry Holt. & Co.
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 is 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 is written by Polly Holyoke and published by LBYR.
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 is written by Lois Lowry and published by HMH Books for Young Readers.
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 information 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 is written by Patricia Forde and published by Sourcebooks.
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 is written by Max Brallier, illustrated by Douglas Colgate, and published by Viking Books for Young Readers.
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 is written by J.L. Esplin and published by Starscape.
“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 is written by Michael Rex and published by Viking Books for Young Readers.
In this graphic novel, Fred used to be a toy robot for kids whose new purpose is to bring 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 in 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 is written by Justin A. Reynolds and published by Scholastic.
Eddie is forced to stay home from the beach party to do his laundry since every single stinky piece of clothing is dirty. He hurries through the washing with quick cycles–until the power unexpectedly goes out! That’s when 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 is written by Angie Sage and published by Katherine Tegan Books.
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 is written by Jenn Reese and published by Candlewick.
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.
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