Archive for Dystopian

Booktalk: All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

With today’s book we revisit author Gabrielle Zevin., the author of Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac and several other excellent novels.  All These Things I’ve Done mixes realistic fiction (a teen having issues with her friends and family) with mystery in a dystopian future setting.  This is an exciting and suspenseful story that will appeal to all teen audiences, but especially to teens familiar with New York landmarks, who will recognize several of the places the characters visit in this reimagined world.  This is also a good book to recommend to adults who are browsing through the teen shelves looking for dystopian future books.  And for readers who get to the last page and want to know what happens next, the next book in the Birthright series Because It Is My Blood was just released this fall!


In the future, chocolate is illegal.  So are camera phones, coffee, Prozac, and about a million other things.  Lots of stuff is rationed, because it’s only available in limited supply — stuff like paper, candles, and even air conditioning.  In a society that survives by getting things on the black market, Anya Balanchine is in a very powerful position.  That’s because she’s part of a crime family that deals in chocolate.  Unfortunately that means that people like Gabe, her jerk of an ex-boyfriend, know that there’s always some chocolate in her apartment.  So when he shows up one night begging for chocolate, Anya gives him two bars just to make him go away.  When Gabe doesn’t show up the next day, nobody realizes that anything is wrong.  But when the police show up at school, Anya is told that Gabe was poisoned by the chocolate she gave him, and that he’s in the hospital in critical condition.  This raises a couple of big questions, like who poisoned the chocolate and who was supposed to eat it?  But those big questions are pushed aside for a bigger problem when Anya is arrested for attempted murder.

Booktalk: Beta by Rachel Cohn

When I went on a recent reading spree so that I could come up with some candidates for my favorite teen books of 2012, Beta stood out for several reasons.  First, it stood out because it was a dystopian fiction novel, and Lord knows I’m a fan of dystopian fiction.  But Beta also stood out because I saw that it was written by Rachel Cohn, who had already earned my admiration with realistic fiction books like Gingerbread.  No, seriously, if you haven’t read Gingerbread yet and want a book with a great protagonist that puts the “real” in realistic fiction, go read it now!

So even though I didn’t know if Rachel Cohn could pull off a science fiction novel, the fact that I knew she was great with realistic fiction made me want to read this book.  And I was richly rewarded when I did!  By the way, the ending of this book was such a surprising cliffhanger that I imagine that both teens and adults who read this book will be clamoring to get their hands on the next book in the series as soon as it’s written.


Elysia is sixteen years old, and she was born that way.  When she woke up in the lab, she saw a woman standing there and asked if she was Elysia’s mother.  The woman seemed angry.  She said she was Elysia’s creator, not her mother.  You see, Elysia is a clone, and a very special one at that.  Adult clones have been around for years, but Elysia is one of the first teenage clones.  The scientists call the teenage clones Betas because they’re not sure if the science is perfected yet.  They’re a little worried about the effect of teenage hormones, and they think that the teen clones might not be stable yet.  That being said, Elysia appears to be a perfect specimen.  She’s beautiful, she’s smart … well, the chip in her brain is smart, anyway.  And most importantly, she’s polite.  When a rich woman buys Elysia to be her companion, Elysia finally gets to see more of the world than just the lab and the store where she was bought.  Elysia starts learning about the world and about herself.  Elysia knows that the real girl that she was cloned from is dead, because a clone can only be created after a person’s soul is extracted.  But Elysia doesn’t know who that person was.  Did she have a lot of friends?  What was her name?  How did she die?  Does anyone miss her?  Clones are supposed to be content to serve.  They’re not supposed to ask questions.  But Elysia can’t help but wonder about the real girl who looked just like her.

And then one day Elysia goes swimming, and when she dives underwater she suddenly sees a strange young man in the water with her.  He speaks to her and then, suddenly, he’s gone.  Elysia has never seen this man before … and yet she knows him.  She knows from the look in his eyes and the tone of his voice that this is the man who loved the girl who died so that Elysia could be created.

Elysia just had a flashback from a dead girl.  That DEFINITELY wasn’t supposed to happen.

Booktalk: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld has been writing out-of-this world fiction series for years, including Peeps, Leviathan, and Midnighters.  But my all-time favorite is still Uglies, which was the beginning of a trilogy that wasn’t exactly a trilogy.  I love to booktalk books like these because they break the bounds and expectations of their genres.  A lot of kids don’t think they like science fiction, but when they hear the description of this book they won’t care what genre it belongs to.  They’ll just want to know what happens next.

BTW, I love this book so much that I gave it one of my ten precious votes in NPR’s “Best-Ever Teen Books” list.  Have you voted yet?  There’s still time!


Tally Youngblood is about to turn sixteen, and you know what THAT means!  No more sneaking out at night, no more pranks, no more party-crashing … and no more being ugly.  On her sixteenth birthday, she is going to be magically (well, medically) transformed … into a pretty.  Tally will go under the knife, and all of her ugly features will be fixed and cut away until only the beautiful part remains.  She wonders sometimes about what exactly happens when you’re transformed from an ugly into a pretty.  Tally and her friends used to spy on the new pretties, and they seemed different somehow.  Not just different because they’re breathtakingly beautiful, but their personalities seemed different, too.  Tally once talked to a pretty who used to be her best friend, and it seemed like he hardly knew her anymore.  But maybe that’s just what happens when you turn pretty.  Maybe when you become that beautiful, you don’t want to be reminded of what you used to be.

Now not everyone wants to transform, and one of those people is Tally’s friend Shay.  Shay has been talking for a while now about a mysterious place somewhere in the wilderness called the Smoke, a place where you don’t turn pretty when you turn sixteen.  Now Shay has vanished, and the rumor is that she ran away to try and find the Smoke.  Tally is ready to be beautiful, and she can’t wait until she finally transforms and leaves ugliness far behind her.  But three days before her birthday, everything changes.  You see, Tally isn’t the only one who thinks that Shay has gone off to find the Smoke.  The people in charge of making you pretty think so, too.  They want Shay back as soon as possible, and they believe that Tally can find her.  So they give Tally an ultimatum: discover the secret location of the Smoke, find Shay and turn her in to the authorities … or else stay ugly forever.

Booktalk: Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

The story of Life as We Knew It is both thought-provoking and chilling.  It’s especially chilling because, unlike scenarios in books like The Hunger Games in which many changes would need to happen over many years for that future to occur, in this scenario just one thing would need to happen.  A meteor would have to hit the moon hard enough to change its orbit.  This would be an excellent suggestion for readers looking for tales of more dystopian futures, as well as a suggestion for readers who don’t think they like science fiction.  You can go to Pfeffer’s website or this site about the “Life as We Knew It” trilogy to find out how much the world changes in this imaginary future.


Everyone was excited when they heard that a meteor was going to hit the moon.  Of course, the moon had been hit by meteors many times before, but THIS time it was going to be different.  This was going to be something so big that people would be able to see with the naked eye, and it promised to be spectacular.  The night of the meteor, it seemed like everyone in the neighborhood was outside, staring up at the sky and waiting.  The people with telescopes saw the meteor first, but soon enough everyone could see it.  They all saw when it hit the moon.  It was amazing and spectacular, like something out of a movie.  But as Miranda and her family watched, this amazing thing quickly turned frightening.  Because something was wrong with the moon.  It shifted in the sky somehow.  The moon looked too large, or maybe too close.  Nobody knew exactly what this meant, but they went to bed feeling confused and scared.  It wasn’t until the next morning that Miranda and her family got the first clues of just how lucky they were.  Coastal areas all over the world had been wiped out overnight by tsunami waves.  The change in gravity also caused volcanoes all over the world to erupt, killing even more people, and throwing up enough ash and smoke to block out the sun.  And no more sun meant no more plants and no more food.  The entire planet had changed.

Miranda used to have a life filled with simple choices.  But as the days turn into weeks and months, her choices are going to be a lot different.  If she has extra food, should she share it or keep it for herself?  Is it safe to leave the house?  Is it safe to trust other people?  And just how badly does she want to survive?

Booktalk: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

After I’d heard about a new dystopian romance (there’s that phrase that pays!) called Delirium, I ordered a copy through my library system.  The book that showed up had the cover you see on the right.  As I was reading the book, the booktalk started writing itself in my head and I immediately began taking notes so that I could present this book to classes.  By the time I started scheduling my class visits, I saw that there were several different covers available for this book, including the “special edition” pictured on the left.  Now, while I appreciate that the special edition cover is more attractive and more enticing, I made sure that I brought the original cover with me on my class visits.  Because that new cover screams “girls only,” and most boys wouldn’t be caught dead carrying that around.  I can’t guarantee that you’ll have your choice of both covers (as of this moment, I only see the special edition available on, but I just wanted you to be aware that more than one cover design exists for Delirium.  However, you should also know that future volumes in this series look like they’re going to follow the special-edition format.

You can learn about Delirium, its hotly-anticipated sequel Pandemonium (coming out in March!), and more at Lauren Oliver’s website.


64 years ago, amor deliria nervosa was recognized as a disease.  Two decades later, the scientists perfected a cure.  According to the Safety, Health, and Happiness Handbook, a cure was necessary, because this disease was known to cause depression, pain, and even death.

Amor deliria nervosa is love, and love is against the law.

Every citizen goes through a procedure in which they are cured of this disease when they turn 18.  Lena is seventeen years old, and she can’t wait to be cured.  Her mother was one of the prime examples of why this disease was so dangerous.  The government tried to cure her mother three different times, with no success.  They were going to try to cure her a fourth time, but Lena’s mother killed herself before they could do it.  Lena’s mother never stopped loving her father.  Lena doesn’t want to live with that kind of pain.  But she has no idea that she’s about to meet a boy who will change her life.

Booktalk: Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner

Usually when you’re reading a story of a postapocalyptic future, it’s a story about what happened after nuclear warfare or chemical warfare.  Bones of Faerie is set in a world where the war in question was between humans and faeries, and there is still a lot of residual magic left behind.  This makes for one of the most unusual settings I’ve ever encountered in a fantasy book.  If you enjoy this book, then you’ll be glad to know that Janni Lee Simner wrote a sequel that just came out this year called Faerie Winter.


Everyone knew that magic was dangerous.  The war between humans and faeries ended years ago, but there was still a lot of magic left in the world.  Like rocks that glowed, plants and trees that would attack people if they got too close, and butterflies that burst into flames.  Everyone knew that magic was dangerous.  And humans who showed any sign of magic were put to death.  But when Liza’s father took her baby sister Rebecca, a beautiful baby born with clear hair and silver eyes, and he left her out on the hillside to die, it broke their family apart.  A few weeks later, Liza’s mother disappeared.  And soon after that, Liza began to notice magic within herself.  She started seeing visions.  Visions about herself, about her mother, about the time Before.  About the time when cars and televisions and skyscrapers still existed … the time before the war.  Now Liza knows that her life is in danger.  If her father knew that she was having these visions … without question, he would kill her.  So instead Liza runs away.  She runs away to escape her father, and to escape death.  She’s also running away to find her mother.  A mother who left without saying goodbye.  A mother who Liza believes is still alive.

Booktalk: Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

I first read Rot and Ruin because a fellow librarian and blogger had recommended it, and because I enjoy both dystopian fiction and zombies.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it wasn’t just a zombie book (which you might think by looking at the cover), but it also has some very memorable and empathetic characters.  I recently booktalked Rot and Ruin for several 9th grade classes, but I think that this would be an excellent choice to share with any kids in 7th grade and up.  I expect that I’ll also be booktalking this to middle school classes in the fall. 

You can learn more about this book on Maberry’s website.  And BTW, this book is the beginning of a series.  The next book, Dust and Decay, is coming out in August, and I can’t wait to read it!

I’ve decided that I’m going to include the text of each booktalk here on the website, so that if you’re interested in using or adapting my booktalks you can just copy and paste them.  So here we go …


Fourteen years ago, there was a zombie apocalypse.  Today, Benny Imura is fifteen years old.  The only memory he has of his parents is of an event that took place when he was just a baby.  That’s when Benny saw his father, who had already turned into a zombie, attack his mother.  Benny’s brother Tom saved his life, but Benny never saw his parents again.  Now Benny is fifteen years old, and it’s time for him to get a
job.  Either that, or get his food rations cut in half.  Benny tries a
couple of different jobs, but each one is so backbreaking, or boring, or disgusting that he turns it down.  Which leaves him with only one choice.  Work with his brother Tom and learn how to be a bounty hunter.  Leave the safety of the town, go outside the fences, and go out into the wide and dangerous world where he will kill zombies for a living.

It almost sounds like a dream job — he’ll be able to get revenge on the disease that destroyed his family and killed and reanimated billions of people.  But it turns out that being a bounty hunter means learning more about the zombies than he ever imagined.  As Benny follows in his brother’s footsteps, he discovers that he has a lot to learn … about men and monsters, about life and death, and about cruelty and compassion.