The Best Dystopian Middle Grade Books (for Ages 9 – 12)

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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?

Try one of these life-after-the apocalypse books!

Best Dystopian Middle Grade Books

Escape from Atlantis
by Kate O’Hearn
You’ll be on pins and needles reading this genre mashup thriller that is wildly inventive, exciting, and thought-provoking. (hint, hint, book clubs!) 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 people as well as half-animal people. They’re told that her dad and aunt are dead but soon learn that like many other things, this is a lie. Riley and Alfie and a few trusted new friends find their not-dead family but metamorphic changes are happening and no one is safe from the feral monsters or the rule-centric community. Now they’re even more, they’re determined to escape, including the koala-man and cat-woman friends who are outcasts from the community. But, how?

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 dystopian books for kids
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 Monster Missions
by Laura Martin
If you like adventure, fast-paced action, cool world-building, and heroic kids, then read this book next! In a post-apocalyptic world covered by water, all the humans live on ships. After she rescues her ship from a sea monster that no one is supposed to know about, Berkley gets the choice of prison or a mysterious submarine where she’ll hunt monsters. She loves her new life until their sub is hijacked by pirates. 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– an 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 makes things right with the friend she betrayed and rescue her brother. Entertaining and suspenseful.

Sci-Fi and Fantasy Chapter Books
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.

dystopian books for middle grade readers
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.

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, this is the most unique dystopian world adventure that I’ve ever read.

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? Cliff hanger alert– I can’t wait for book two!

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.

dystopian chapter books for kids
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!

Maze Runner dystopian
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?

Dystopian Chapter Books
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.

dystopian middle grade books for tweens

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    Hi! I’m Melissa Taylor, mom, writer, & former elementary teacher & literacy trainer. I love sharing good books & fun learning resources.

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