Archive for Dystopian

Booktalk: Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign by Takaya Kagami

Seraph of the End cover

Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign by Takaya Kagami is one of the best mangas I’ve read in a long time.  It has a great combination of external and internal conflicts.  We spend a lot of time inside a 12-year-old boy’s head, learning why it’s so hard for him to trust other people and why he reacts so badly to the idea of a family.  But we also get lots of action in the form of vampires, and there are plenty of exciting scenes that will keep readers on the edge of their seats!


In the future, a mysterious virus kills most of the Earth’s population.  It kills the adults but leaves the children alive. With all of the adults gone, human society starts falling apart.

And that’s when the vampires take over.

The vampires capture the human children and bring them underground.  They let the children live, but only to be used as a permanent blood supply.  Yuichiro is a 12-year-old boy who hates vampires.  He dreams of having enough power to fight and defeat them, which is almost impossible because vampires are so much stronger than humans.  But before Yuichiro can defeat the vampires first he must escape the underground city and find his way back to the human world.  He doesn’t know it yet, but the human world is a lot different than he remembered, and a lot different than he expected.

A Few of My Favorite Dystopias, Part 2

Dystopian Fiction Display

We return with another look at one of our most popular genres!  For more dystopian goodness, check out last year’s episode: A Few of My Favorite Dystopias.

Books discussed in this episode:

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
The Saturn Apartments by Hisae Iwaoka
Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire
The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa
Darkness Before Dawn by J.A. London
The Selection by Kiera Cass
The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Slated by Teri Terry
A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer
Inhuman by Kat Falls
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
The 100 by Kass Morgan
Frozen by Melissa De La Cruz and Michael Johnston
Perfect Ruin by Lauren Destefano
Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

Booktalk: Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

Uninvited cover

Uninvited by Sophie Jordan starts with a dystopian premise — imagine if the government could punish you for a crime you COULD commit in the future — and then sets that story in the present rather than the future.  Both the modern-day setting and the plausibility of the premise will make this story hard for readers to forget.  This would also make a good subject for a book discussion, as readers can explore the shades of gray in the idea of guilt and innocence of various characters.

[NOTE: My first episode of the month is usually an “in depth” episode, but this month I had to switch the order around.  So stay tuned for a longer episode next week!]


Davina Hamilton’s life was just about perfect.  She was a great student, a talented musician, and her boyfriend Zac was so handsome that all the girls in school envied her.  She was a senior at an exclusive private school, and she’d already been accepted to go to Juilliard next year.

But then one day she gets a test result that changes everything.  She tests positive for HTS, Homicidal Tendency Syndrome, also known as the “kill gene.”  Even though she hasn’t killed anyone yet, she could in the future.  And for that reason, the government has decided that she is dangerous.

One by one, she starts to lose all of those things that made her life perfect.   She’s thrown out of her private school.  Her friends turn against her.  Her relationship with her boyfriend ends badly … and publicly.  Juilliard decides that she’s NOT the right kind of student after all and rejects her application.  Now everything’s changed — not just for the next few weeks or months, but for the rest of her life.

Davina will have to go to a different school, where she and the other students who tested positive will spend all day in a locked room that’s far away from all the other students.  A room called the Cage.  She doesn’t think that her life could get worse than having to spend all day locked in a room with other potential killers.  She has no idea that being singled out for a crime she hasn’t even committed is only the beginning.

Booktalk: The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

City of Ember cover

I was an enormous fan of The City of Ember when it first came out.  This would be a great book to recommend to older children and younger teens who are looking for dystopian fiction books but don’t want a dystopian romance.  You can visit Jeanne DuPrau’s website to learn more about the entire Ember series.


Lina and Doon have lived all their lives in the city of Ember, just like their parents and their grandparents before them.  Now that they’re twelve years old, it’s time for them to leave school and start working.  But when they go to select their assignments, they’re both disappointed.  Lina picks the job of Pipeworks Laborer, which means working deep underground.  Doon picks the job of Messenger, which involves running all over the city.  Because each of them hates the jobs they picked, they decide to switch jobs instead.  Lina is happy because she always wanted to be a messenger.  Doon is happy, too, but for a different reason.  He doesn’t really want to work with pipes every day, but it’s in the Pipeworks that the city generator is located.  Doon has never seen the generator before, but he thinks that if he can see it, maybe he can fix it.

You see, the city has been running well for many years, but recently the power has been failing more and more, for longer periods of time.  And when the power goes out, the lights go out.  And when the lights go out, the entire city is plunged into total darkness.   Because in the city of Ember, it’s always night, and there are no moon or stars.  On top of this, Ember has other problems, too.  The storehouses that used to be filled with all kinds of food and countless light bulbs are almost empty.  Stores that used to be open every day are now open only one or two days a week, with hardly anything left on the shelves.

Lina and Doon are each going to discover clues about the history of Ember.  But it’s only if they put those clues together and use everything they’ve ever learned that they’ll have any chance of saving their city before it’s plunged into darkness forever.

Booktalk: Darkness Before Dawn by J.A. London

Darkness Before Dawn cover

Okay, so do you see that cover?  The one featuring the pretty girl in the long pretty dress?  Well, now you know the #1 reason that my eyes slid right over this book when it first came out.  Because, as I may have mentioned before, there are way too many YA books published nowadays featuring pretty girls in long pretty dresses, and I started getting sick of them after a while.  It wasn’t until I was recently compiling a list of scary books that I discovered, really looked at, and finally READ this book.  And that’s when I learned that it defied my expectations.

Yes, in answer to your follow-up question, Darkness Before Dawn is about a pretty girl who sometimes wears a long pretty dress.  But since Dawn is a human delegate who meets with one of the most powerful vampires in the world, and since part of the etiquette is that she has to dress in a formal, old-fashioned way whenever she goes to meet him, the cover kind of makes sense!  What I liked about this story is that it’s about a modern girl who is being pulled in different directions romantically, all while dealing with danger, betrayal, and REALLY dangerous vampires.  Oh, and when I showed this book to my Teen Advisory Group, their first reaction was to ask me (in an eye-rolling way) if it was about vampires that sparkled in the sunlight.  I told them that while there was romance in this book, that these were the kinds of vampires that would burn to ashes if the sunlight hit them.  And that seemed to be a very satisfactory answer.

Check out J.A. London’s website to learn more about this book and the others that complete this dystopian/vampire/romantic trilogy (Blood-Kissed Sky and After Daybreak).  And if you visit J.A. London’s Twitter feed, you’ll learn something very unusual about the author’s identity!


Dawn has plenty of reasons to hate vampires.  Years ago, her brother died while saving her from a vampire attack.  And just three months ago, her parents were murdered while returning from an official visit to Lord Valentine, one of the most powerful vampires in the world.

Now Lord Valentine has selected Dawn to be the new human delegate to the vampires, continuing the job her father held until his untimely death.  It’s Dawn’s job to bargain with the vampires, and to set a balance between vampires and humans.  She needs to encourage people to donate enough blood to keep the vampires satisfied, so that humanity can be safe once and for all.  But bargaining with vampires is going to be hard, and trusting vampires is going to be even harder.

Dawn doesn’t know it yet, but even as she starts learning to trust people and starts hoping that a human-vampire peace can be achieved, the people she loves most in the world are in more danger than ever before.

Booktalk: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Coldest Girl in Coldtown cover

This book has been getting a lot of buzz lately, and deservedly so!  The Coldest Girl in Coldtown fuses the idea of vampires with a dystopian future, and stars some really compelling characters.  Plus, I love both the title and the cover to pieces!

Give this to your teen readers who love horror, who love vampires, and who love strong kick-ass heroines.  And make sure you visit Holly Black’s website to learn more about her novels, short stories, and graphic novels for children and teens.


When a person is bitten by a vampire, the person doesn’t turn into a vampire right away.  Usually what happens is that the person turns cold.  Not exactly living, but not quite undead, either.  The person might turn into a vampire, or might turn back into a human.

And that’s why the government built a series of Coldtowns, and surrounded each one with walls and high security.  Each Coldtown is filled with vampires, humans who want to become vampires, humans who want to be vampire victims, and humans who’ve turned cold … so they’re not quite human anymore.

All of the vampires are supposed to stay in the Coldtowns.  But vampires don’t always follow the rules.  So it’s still dangerous for humans to be out at night … and still stupid for humans to go to parties at sundown.

Last night, Tana went to a sundown party.  This morning she woke up in the bathtub, and discovered that almost everyone else in the house was dead.  Now she’s on the strangest road trip ever, with her ex-boyfriend and a vampire who probably wants to kill both of them.  And Tana is driving all of them to the nearest Coldtown.

Booktalk: Slated by Teri Terry

Slated UK coverSlated cover

[Here are the UK and US covers, respectively.  I like them both, but I have to give the coolness edge to the UK edition.  I mean, the city is cool and all, but do we NEED to see it?]

So … remember how I recently devoted an entire episode to a few of my favorite dystopias?   Well, shortly after I finished that episode I read this book, and Slated definitely deserves to have a place on any “best dystopian fiction” lists!  Check out Teri Terry’s website to learn more about the Slated trilogy: Slated (out now in hc & pb), Fractured (out this month in the US), and Shattered (out in March 2014 in the UK and May 2014 in the US).


Kyla is sixteen years old, but she’s only been awake for the last nine months.  Before that she was Slated — her mind was wiped clean of everything she’d ever done, everyone she ever knew, every thought she’d ever had.  All gone.

Kyla knows very little about herself.  She knows that she was a criminal, and that’s why her mind was wiped clean.  Being Slated was supposed to be the more humane alternative to jail or to the death penalty.  Kyla knows that she has to hold on to happy thoughts, because if she gets too sad or too stressed out she could get in trouble or she could even die.  That’s because all the people who’ve been Slated have to wear a special device called a Levo on their wrists as part of their punishment.  The Levo monitors their moods — if the number drops too low it will set off alarms, and if the number drops even lower the people wearing them can lose consciousness or even die.

Kyla is one of thousands of people who’ve been Slated.  But there’s something about her that’s different from the rest of them.  She keeps having nightmares about running, about trying to escape something that she can’t see.  As time goes on she starts learning more about the person she used to be — she discovers that she can draw, she can run, she can drive, and she can fight.

Kyla is going to learn that when her mind was wiped clean, the process didn’t go exactly as expected.

A Few of My Favorite Dystopias

City of Ember coverShip Breaker cover5th Wave Cover

I’ve been meaning to do a dystopian episode for a while now, and the time when students are going back to school seemed as good a time as any to share books in a genre that has exploded in popularity over the last few years.  I’ve already booktalked several of the books that I mentioned in this episode; if you’d like to hear and read my booktalks of dystopian titles please click on the “dystopian” category on this page or just go here to check them out.

Here are the titles of dystopian fiction books that I mentioned in this episode:

1984 by George Orwell
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner
Matched by Ally Condie
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
XVI by Julia Karr
Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
Ship Breaker by Paolo Baciagalupi
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin
Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin
After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia ed. by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
Beta by Rachel Cohn
The Program by Suzanne Young
Crewel by Gennifer Albin
The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey
All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

Booktalk: The Program by Suzanne Young

Program cover

Maybe you think you’re sick of dystopian future books, already.  Maybe you think that if you have to read one more book, look at one more book, or even think about one more book, you’re just going to …

Well, no.  You’re not going to kill yourself.  In fact, even if you THINK you’re sick of dystopian books, you’re going to make an exception for The Program by Suzanne Young because it’s a super-cool mind-bending story that is packed to the gills with drama and excitement.

I’m not kidding.  Go read this book.  And then sit next to me while we grind our teeth and wait for the sequel.


Several years ago, teen suicide was declared a national epidemic.  One out of three teenagers were killing themselves, and nobody knew why.  Maybe it was something in the food.  Maybe it was because so many people were taking antidepressants.  Maybe it had something to do with peer pressure.  Parents used to say things like, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?” but now they don’t say that anymore.

It’s hard for Sloane and James not to think about suicide when they’re surrounded by death on all sides.  But they have to hide their true feelings, because now the government is involved.  Now if teens start showing any signs of depression, government agents can take them away and force them into the Program.  The Program is the only known cure for suicidal thoughts.  On the plus side, at the end of six weeks, you don’t have those suicidal thoughts anymore.  But on the minus side, you’ll lose your memories of your friends, your family, and everything that was ever important to you.  In other words … you might as well be dead.

Sloane and James will do anything to keep each other safe and stay out of the Program.  They will do anything to keep themselves whole, and keep their minds from being wiped clean.  But unfortunately, they won’t be the ones making the final decision.

Booktalk: After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia

First, I was interested in reading After because it combines two of my favorite things: short stories and dystopias.  Then when I saw that it was edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, I was even more excited to read it because they have an excellent track record with fantasy and science fiction anthologies.  As with most anthologies, some stories are better than others so the quality varies as you go through the book, but I definitely found more hits than misses here.  Oh, and as a side note, this book is officially for ages “12 and up,” but I think that some of the stories are above most middle school students’ comprehension so I would primarily recommend this collection for high school students or adults.

As I was trying to come up with ideas for how to booktalk this book, I was torn between talking about the book as a whole and focusing on one particular story.  Once in a while, I’ll find one story in an anthology that I think will be able to sell the book to a wide audience, like in my booktalk for Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link.  But even though I found several stories in this anthology that could definitely merit their own booktalks, I decided that I’d rather highlight the large variety of stories in this collection so that I would be more likely to suggest a premise that might intrigue someone in my audience.  And the added benefit of this booktalk?  If I forget one of the sentences, THAT’S OKAY.  And if I list the premises out of order, THAT’S OKAY, TOO.


How will society fall apart?

Will there be war?  Will the crime rate soar out of control?  Will ocean levels rise, flooding the world’s cities?  Will an illness or a plague destroy the population?  Will aliens from outer space attack the earth?  Will people spread mutations that turn them into zombies or vampires?  Will something created in a lab go horribly wrong and start destroying the world?  Will the earth become so toxic that everyone will have to leave the planet?  Will a mysterious event break the world into millions of pieces?

And then … after society falls apart … what happens next?