Tag Archives: dystopia

The Top 10 Books I Wish I Had Read for School

Top Ten Tuesday topic is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s topic was Top 10 Contemporary Books That Would Be Great Paired With A Required Reading Book OR Top Ten Books That You Wish Were Taught In Schools. Even though these are both great topics, I struggled with coming up with ten, and decided to focus on the books I wish I had read in school. Some people have read these for school, but every curriculum is different, and these are ones I wish I had been assigned to read (especially in place of some of my least favorites). This week’s list is separated by category.

The Classics That I Still Haven’t Gotten Around to Reading


Brave New World, The Bell Jar, The Screwtape Letters, Fahrenheit 451

Classics are intimidating, which is why they make us read them in school, right? Because otherwise, we might not pick them up. Or are we intimidated by them because they were required reading in school? Hmmm… Regardless, they can’t make us read them all, because there are so many of them! But some I kind of wanted to read, or want to read now, but I might be intimidated for one reason or another, or just haven’t gotten around to it for one reason or another.

(Somewhat) Classic Books I Enjoyed After Graduating


Anthem, Ender’s Game, The Giver

I’m noticing that there was a severe lack of dystopia reading in my school curriculum, which makes me sad. I missed out the poignant The Giver and the interesting Anthem, both which are nice short reads might I add. And while I don’t really consider Ender’s Game dystopia as much as sci-fi, I think it would still be a good school read that can get kids to thinking about the future.

Published After Graduating High School (or College), but Would Have Been Awesome to Read for School!


Cinder, The Book Thief, The Hunger Games

These were published in 2012, 2006, and 2008 respectively, all after I finished high school and Cinder after college, so I never would have really had the chance to read these in the classroom. But how great it would have been! You could read the original story of Cinderella before Cinder and then compare the two! The Book Thief offers a unique perspective on WWII you’re not going to find in history books, plus the prose is lovely. And then The Hunger Games is a true dystopia (much more so than many other YA “dystopias” that have emerged since), but is more interesting and friendly to read than, say, 1984. I think these more contemporary books would be great required reads.

What do you think? What books do you wish you had read for school? 

My Fantasy Team: YA Book Edition


Next weekend I’ll be drafting for my Fantasy Football team. I’m sure most of you are aware of what it is, but for those who are not, basically it’s a game of statistics played during the NFL season where participants “draft” real-life players from various teams for their virtual team, and their performance in their real-life games translates to the stats of your team. I’m not super into football,  but my friends were doing a league last year so I thought, “What the heck?”, and now I am doing it once again. Go Deep Space Niners! (That would be my team… named after the baseball team formed by the crew of Deep Space Nine in a season seven episode. I am a geek. By the way, don’t watch anything from season seven of Deep Space Nine before having watched the previous seasons. It’s chock full of character and plot spoilers.)

OK, how does this tie into Young Adult literature? Well, I thought it would be fun to create a “fantasy” young adult book, built by various characters and plot devices from different YA books. The books I decided to draw from:

yafantasy1 yafantasy2

Setting: Post -Apocalyptic Chicago divided into factions (Divergent)

Main Character: Elliot North (For Darkness Shows the Stars)

The Best Friend: Harley (Across the Universe)

The Love Interest: Prince Kai (Cinder)

The Antagonist: President Snow (The Hunger Games)

Plot Set-Up: Reality show where the Princes chooses his wife (The Selection)

Book Synopsis: Elliot North is persuaded by her father and her crazy best friend Harley (BTW, no love triangle here- Harley loved Elliot’s sister before she tragically died) to sign up for the selection, a lottery-style opportunity to compete for the Prince’s love for the entire country to see. Elliot finds the idea ridiculous, but signs up with the full confidence that she has a better chance of being selected for the show.

Yet as her unfortunate luck would have it, Elliot is selected, and is whisked away to downtown Chicago to meet the Prince… and the girls she is supposed to be competing against. She decides to try to enjoy the food and the pretty dresses until Prince Kai decides to kick her out, which she believes will be by her second day there, and is surprised when he actually seems to like her, despite her bluntness with him about her lack of care about him.

Elliot and Kai form an unlikely friendship, which leads to him allowing her to see her friend Harley when he comes to visit, and the two of them taking frequent walks down Navy Pier to watch the boats. Kai learns from Elliot just how bad things are among the different factions that are supposed to be united, but are anything but. Elliot learns from Kai that war is imminent with the neighboring country that used to be part of the same country as theirs before a civil war broke it apart, and that the other country’s President Snow seems eager to engage the forces.

Will Elliot come to care for Kai? Will President Snow make good on his threats? Will Harley’s new job at The Royal House affect Kai and Elliot’s relationship or even endanger his hopes of being an artist? It’s a trilogy of course, so it’ll be a while before you find all this out.

This isn’t actually my ideal YA book, but I still thought it was fun to construct elements from different stories and see how they would fit together.

What do you think? What elements would include for your “fantasy” book team? 

My Top 10 Elements in Dystopia

I thought an excellent topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday freebie would be the top ten elements I like to see in dystopia stories I have read. This can be the nature of the characters, the plot, the society structure, etc., and it can be from specific stories or in general. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Sameness of the society

Though I think several dystopias have adapted this idea, but I like the way it is illustrated in The Giver the best. Not only does everyone follow the same progression through life up until they are selected for their job and start to train for those, but they do not exhibit much independent thought because of this environment. The ability has not been taken away or suppressed by drugs, but they have been encouraged through positive reinforcement all their lives to live a certain way, to not question it, and to not want any more. When Jonas learns of the past and colors and things no one else in his town knows about, it challenges his thoughts on the status quo. It’s easy for everyone to be the same, but is it really a life worth living?

2. Separation within the society


I think The Hunger Games in particular does an excellent job in showcasing a clear divide between the two main groups of people within the society: The elaborate Capitol and the struggling Districts. Not only do they force the Districts to give up children each year for the annual Hunger Games, which serve as a source of entertainment and gambling for the Capitols, but they subject the winners to their ways for the rest for their lives, so even the winners don’t really win. Some, like Finnick Odair, are even forced into prostitution because of their good looks and charming nature. Whatever the Capitol wants, the Capitol gets, and subjects the Districts to.

The Selection also shows a divide with a caste system and monarchy set in place, though I do not find Cass’ world building quite as detailed or effective as Collins’, it does have a lot of potential.

3. The “stand-out” among the society


I think there are several dystopias who have their main character a stand-out. Tris (and others) are Divergents in their society, and cannot be categorized by one faction of their society, which some see as a threat. In The Giver, Jonas stands out because he is the Receiver, he has the ability to receive past memories and see things differently than the rest of his society. In Across the Universe, those who think differently from the norm, like Elder and Harley are considered crazy, when really they are just creative and the others have had their creativity suppressed. It’s an obvious element not just for dystopia, but for any story, but it is an effective one. I believe most all of us have a desire to stand out somewhat, even if it scares us.

4. The “good guys” aren’t as good as they seem

The strongest element of Reached (the conclusion of the Matched trilogy), I thought, was how it was clear that the Resistance, the “good guys” in the story, aren’t as good as they had been romanticized by Cassia and Xander to be. They are willing to sacrifice people and create chaos in the name of their cause; they turn to panic rather than logic or strategy to overthrow the government. Cassia’s world grew more gray in Reached, which I think was a necessity for that series.

It’s also interesting to see in Divergent and Insurgent how among these five factions, one cannot really be labeled “the good guys.” Yes, there are the honest ones, the peaceful ones, the humble ones… But just the same, the factions are not particularly good or particularly bad. It is the individual who is good or bad.

5. A secret rules the society/main character

In either movies or books, I am always fascinated by the notion that everything the main character has believed about their life has been a lie or at least a facade veiling secrets. It happens in Across the Universe, Insurgent, The Giver, Ender’s Game, Cinder, The Maze Runner series, and of course in other stories as well.  It’s funny when you’re on the outside looking in, not understanding why the main character can’t accept that their reality is not actual reality when it seems so obvious to you. Or sometimes, it takes the reader by surprise too. But either way, if I think about it, it would be hard for me to accept too. It’s a “what if” question that certainly makes for a fascinating string of possibilities.

6. Humans as test subjects


The Maze Runner series was not my favorite, but one thing I did find fascinating was what these teens were being put through. First they are forced to live in an environment with a seemingly unsolvable maze (as well as potentially dangerous), and then when they finally escape it, they only face more trials that they forced to go through in the name of science and discovery. Unfortunately, I found the end of the series to be unsatisfying for an explanation as to why all these weird techniques were supposed to help, as well as an unsatisfactory resolution to the characters and their journeys, but the overall concept of using humans as test subjects is certainly fascinating.

7. Revolution


This is also a common theme in dystopia, but I think the way it was built up and ultimately played out in The Hunger Games trilogy is especially fascinating. Katniss plays the rules of the game to a point, but she slowly, and not completely purposefully, starts the destruction of the system from the inside out. She also has a lot of help along the way because even a teenage girl as strong as Katniss can’t take down a whole government herself.

8. Genetic mutation/manipulation

Unfortunately I have not seen too much yet of this yet in the dystopias I have read, and in the ones I have found it in, they have been used in somewhat underwhelming and disappointing ways, but genetic engineering fascinates me. I want to see more!

9. Strong and diverse characters


This, in a nutshell, is what really makes The Hunger Games stand out from other dystopias in my mind. I have never, in any other dystopia series I have read, fallen so in love with so many characters as I have in The Hunger Games. They are so well-rounded, each with such unique personalities, that they just feel so real. Sometimes I think authors get so caught up in their epic story line that they forget to give special treatment for the characters. But plot alone cannot carry a story; we need more epic characters! (Though I will say that The Lunar Chronicles are producing some pretty great characters as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing them develop more and meeting new ones in the last two books!)

10. Post-War

Any story that starts off in the ruins of a previous society marred by war, or even years after war but with lingering aftermath, (Hunger Games, Divergent, Ender’s Game, The Selection, Cinder, etc.) piques my interest. What caused the war often determines how the society is rebuilt afterwards. There is often this notion that society will be better this way than it was before, but many times, as we see, that is not necessarily true.

Books mentioned in this post:

dystopiasWhat about you? What elements interest you in dystopias?

My Gateway Into Dystopia…

Since reading The Hunger Games, I have been seeking more of the dystopia genre, and have also been penning some of my own. However, I did not start writing these stories after The Hunger Games per say, as a hint of dystopian interest has been on my radar for years, startling subtly and growing bit by bit until I read those books and realized there was a name of a genre of this particular type of story I have long found interest in. Here’s the history of my growing interest in dystopia…

The Twilight Zone

I don’t remember particularly how or when I discovered The Twilight Zone, though I am almost positive that one of the marathons on the SciFi (or SyFy if you prefer the incorrect spelling) channel is responsible, and my dad was probably the one watching it first when I found it. All I know is that I quickly became hooked. One of the first episodes that really stuck out to me was “Number 12 Looks Just Like You,” where a young girl lives in a society where everyone goes through a “Transformation” process that makes them youthful and beautiful for the rest of their lives.  I remember thinking, I can see this actually happening. That was definitely the first taste.


Another episode that really caught my attention and I would consider my favorite on the show is “The Obsolete Man,” where a man is ruled by his government  to be obsolete because of his “outdated” career and religious beliefs. Since he is obsolete, he is to be executed. Again, it was another episode that struck the thought within me: This could actually happen.


Then came…

The Island

the island

The Island is a movie that, in my opinion, is highly underrated. *SPOILERS AHEAD* It focuses on a man and a woman, Lincoln and Jordan, who live in a compound where they believe they are being sheltered from the contamination of the outside world, save for one island, where winners of a random lottery can win a chance to go to. Lincoln and Jordan come to find out, however, that they are actually clones of other people, and winners of the lottery are not going to an island, but being harvested for organs by those whose DNA they match. It is a big secret that the creator of the company (who is appropriately played by Sean Bean because he dies) has managed to keep… until the end of the movie of course. At this point, I already had a random interest in the ethics of cloning that arose from who-knows-where, so I was hooked once again.

Then along came…


Another film that does not get as much love as it deserves. In this story, John Preston is essentially a cop for the feelings police, if you will, in a totalitarian society where emotions are suppressed by the required drug Prozium.

This is John Preston inserting Prozium. Or Christian Bale shirtless. No, it’s John Preston inserting Prozium, just trust me.

Two things shake his world: The first is uncovering a lair of the senses, where a woman is hiding books, music, and art. From this crime scene Preston’s partner Partridge ends up taking a book of poetry. And for his crime *SPOILERohwaitnotreallybecausethischaracterisplayedbySeanBean* he is shot by Preston himself.


This may or may not have rattled Preston initially, but what makes him confront it is when his last dosage of Prozium falls and the glass capsule breaks, causing the liquid inside to spill. With one missed dosage, Preston starts to see, and feel, everything in a whole new light. So he decides to fight against the very system he has been working to protect. Like “The Obsolete Man,” the focus of this movie is the totalitarian government, and about how we should all have the right to express ourselves and make our own choices.

Then my last “gateway” before The Hunger Games was…



Once upon a time my dad told me about this movie where there is a society in which people who aren’t genetically engineered are considered inferior. It sounded interesting to me, and the idea was planted, but I wasn’t quite ready for viewing it yet. But in college, I again got this crazy random interest in genetic engineering and wanted to write a movie script on the idea for my Scriptwriting class, so suddenly I was seeking out this movie my dad told me about. Vincent is considered “in-valid,” since he was born naturally, and at birth his death by heart failure is predicted to happen at an early age. Yet he surpasses his predicted expiration date and pursues his dream of flying to space by taking the identity of a “valid,” Jerome, who became disabled. I think the theme of the movie  could be surmised in the Bible verse shown on the first title card of the movie: Consider God’s handiwork; who can straighten what He hath made crooked? – Ecclesiastes 7:13. Flawed human beings are still human beings. Think of all the flawed human beings who have contributed so much to our society.

All the movies have this in common: a setting of the future of our world should we choose certain routes that we have interest in. The concept of a “fountain of youth” is the world in The Twilight Zone episode “Number 12.” Totalitarian governments dictate lives in “The Obsolete Man” and Equilibrium. Human cloning and using those clones to save “real” humans is the subject matter of The Island. And cloning’s not-so-distant cousin eugenics and its potential effect on society is considered in Gattaca. I find these stories impactful. And I want to tell stories like those. I have to admit, in my own story writing I can get caught up in romances and other petty things that often happen in young adult novels, which is why I am really working to rewrite my first dystopia story. I like the romance, but I want the focus of the story to be the warning of what can happen. That’s what these movies do so well, that brought me into my interest int the genre. I hope I can do it justice.

What was your gateway to dystopia, or whatever your genre of choice may be? What stories make you think?