Me: How about this one?
Brain: Um, sorry to break it to you, hon, but this is not dystopian.
Me: *ahem* Dystopia: An imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant.
Brain: But what about the female heroine who can do anything (even take down a whole government) on her own?
Brain: What about the super attractive guys that are vying for her attention?
Me: You need more variety.
Brain: What about the main character being the world's only hope? The fate of the universe has to rest on the shoulders of a teenager. It just has to.
If you have had similar conversations with yourself, then this list is for you.
Note: For the sake of simplicity, we are going to restrict the "Dystopian" criteria to Earth-only. I know, all of those sci-fi dystopians that I am discriminating against... I'm a monster.
The Unwanteds by Lisa Mcmann
When Alex finds out he is Unwanted, he expects to die. That is the way of the people of Quill. Each year, all the thirteen-year-olds are labeled as Wanted, Necessary, or Unwanted. Wanteds get more schooling and train to join the Quillitary. Necessaries keep the farms running. Unwanteds are set for elimination.
It’s hard for Alex to leave behind his twin, Aaron, a Wanted, but he makes peace with his fate—until he discovers that instead of a “death farm,” what awaits him is a magical place called Artimé. There, Alex and his fellow Unwanteds are encouraged to cultivate their creative abilities and use them magically. Everything Alex has ever known changes before his eyes, and it’s a wondrous transformation.
But it’s a rare, unique occurrence for twins to be divided between Wanted and Unwanted, and as Alex and Aaron's bond stretches across their separation, a threat arises for the survival of Artim that will pit brother against brother in an ultimate magical battle.
I don't mean to force this series down everyone's throats (just kidding, of course I do. Why wouldn't I? IT'S THE BEST.), but this was the first thing that popped into my brain when I thought of dystopian novels that are NOT formula, and boring, and blech. You should know that I am hugely biased. Please take every word from my mouth as an unabashed promotion of this beautiful series.
Why y'all should read it (also known as a Pro):
- Let's take a look at the cover. Stone cheetah.
- STONE CHEETAH (who happens to be a huge grouch but also will protect children at all costs)
- While other children were running around reading about scarred wizards and giant animals that should not be giant (exhibit a. spider. exhibit b. SPIDER), I devoured the marvelous world of Artime that is SO MUCH BETTER THAN HARRY POTTER (fight me).
- Seriously though, The Unwanteds was ma jam. Harry Potter seemed so colorless (and tbh, it still kinda is, but I do love it), and Artime was a world of color and creativity and someone take me there ASAP okay thanks.
- This series does everything right (I'm sure we could find flaws if we looked in that little shadowed corner there, but NO ONE LOOK THERE).
- It's so unique, though I don't know if it's technically dystopian but shhh, I make the rules here.
- Character development is A+. And don't even get me started on the beauty of the secondary characters.
- The romance is subtle, drawn out, and actually realistic (despite the, you know, magic and stuff).
Why y'all might not want to read it (also known as a Con):
- Because you're a silly person?
- Or, you know, the fact that it is a commitment because there are SEVEN books in the series...
- There is a lot of different genres mashed up together, so if you get confused easily, then you should approach with caution.
- I'm not sure if it's middle-grade or YA, but the writing definitely isn't a perfect unicorn of universal brilliance. It's geared towards a younger audience, and the writing does show that a bit.
- The magic isn't as heavily featured as I would like, but I don't know if this is a dealbreaker for you. In an ideal world, the book would be stuffed with magic and wonder and awesome tiny paper dragons!!!
Gathering Blue by Lois LowryIt is a society ruled by savagery and deceit that shuns and discards the weak. Left orphaned and physically flawed, young Kira faces a frightening, uncertain future. Blessed with an almost magical talent that keeps her alive, she struggles with ever broadening responsibilities in her quest for truth, discovering things that will change her life forever.
Why y'all should read it:
- It's nice.
- It's not crazy amazing or breathtaking or heart wrenching. It's just really nice.
- Apparently it's a Giver companion novel? Who knew? When I first read it, I had never heard of the Giver (in fact, if anyone had mentioned the Giver to me, I would have wondered who this Giver is, what is he giving, and can I have some?).
- So my recommendation is to go back, unread the Giver, and read Gathering Blue completely uninfluenced by anything (it can be done. All you need is a little faith, trust, and pixie dust).
- It's funny, and there's a nice dog for a while.
- Also I don't remember how it ends so we can read it together! Yay for friendship.
- I think my hipster side is wanting me to say that Gathering Blue is better than the Giver just because it is less known, BUT I WON'T. I won't give in to my hipster side. Y'all can still trust me.
- There is some GORGEOUS description here and there. It's a good time.
Why y'all might not want to read it:
- It isn't as life-consumingly amazing as other books I could mention (please. Ask me. I have the list of "books that will take over your life"), therefore, some might turn their nose up at it and scoff. Well it scoffs right back, so ha!
- Because the characters can tend to be a tad whiny, though that's understandable for the main character because she does have a disability. I think I would be whining too if my leg was kind of useless. I whine when I run out of food on my plate.
- We don't get to see very much of this world, and it's easy to be disconnected from it.
- A lot of the characters, even the ones that are supposed to matter, kind of blend into the background.
The Hermit Thrush Sings by Susan ButlerLeora has a gift, and a secret. She can see things no one else can, but can only draw them with her one webbed hand.
Several generations have passed since North America was struck by a meteor that changed life forever. Now, Leora lives safely locked inside the walls of Village Three. Only the guards and croptenders are allowed out, where the world is said to be undeveloped and dangerous. Leora's heard stories of the ferocious birmbas -- half bear, half gorilla -- that resulted from the meteor. Mutants cannot be trusted.
But Leora herself is considered a "defective" with her hidden hand and gift. When she risks her life to free a baby birmba, she finds the courage to escape beyond the tyrannical walls without knowing what she may find.
First of all, I love how many reviews on Goodreads were saying how this book changed their life. I'm so proud. Also can we just take a moment to appreciate how nostalgic this is for me? I'm getting some major flashbacks here. Some are not so great.
Storytime: One day, when I was a wee lass, my mother had taken me to the park. I was sitting on a bench, reading The Hermit Thrush Sings, enjoying the sunshine. She excused herself to go talk to someone, and I was left all alone reading my book. Then, out of nowhere, a boy my age showed up. I had no idea who he was, and frankly, he looked like a hooligan (then again, I thought every male was a hooligan). He sat down beside me and started talking. So what did I do? Little Awkward Me panicked. I threw the book down on the bench and ran. When I ran up to my mother, she assumed that I was ready to go. So she took me back to the car, and we drove home. Without the book. The library book. I owed a lot of money.
Why y'all should read it:
- Because I say so most adimately, and if that isn't a valid reason then I don't know what's going to convince you and your high standards.
- Also it's REEEALLY GOOD.
- A little part of my love for this book might be because it was my first dystopian, and I loved it with all my heart? nah. No bias here.
- Leora has a webbed hand that is super cool, but of course, no one understands her and thinks she's freaky.
- Adorable animals that need protecting show up.
- HELLO I WOULD LIKE AN ADORABLE ANIMAL PLEASE
- Anyone? Can I have a birmba?
- There's an all-girl revolution that is #fierce.
- They don't mess around.
- I think there's an explosion at some point??? so you can look forward to that.
- PLOT TWISTS that may or may not be twisty.
- I don't remember.
- I really should have reread this more recently.
- THERE'S A BIRD, right? Something about a bird?
- It's really good. You just have to believe me.
Why y'all might not want to read it:
- It is a lot like Gathering Blue in some ways (but I think it's better. It can do no wrong. Proud mother over here.).
- I actually can't think of a whole lot that is wrong with it.
- I got bored a little bit towards the end, but not too bored. Just where I yawned a few times. It's fine.
- That's it.
- OMG THIS BOOK IS BASICALLY PERFECT.
These three books are very dear to my heart, and I'm sure there is something more wrong with them, but I clearly can't see it.
Part 2 will probs be up soon. No promises.