Here at the library, we’ve been in the midst of a steadily rising excitement. It will culminate on the 23rd of March when the “Hunger Games” movie comes out. Already our hold lists are miles long, so we’ve had plenty of time to come up with alternatives for those who have just finished (or are waiting anxiously for) the series. I’ve picked books that take place on earth after a terrible event that changes everything – from climate to society.
The disasters that cause these changes range in tone from catastrophic (plague or nuclear war) to difficult (fuel shortages). Since there are so many great options out there, I’ve only done summaries for a few – and left the rest as titles for you to explore.
A word of warning: some of these are true dystopias (think Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”) and thus are very, very dark. Enjoy and may the odds be ever in your favor!
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. In the not-so-distant future, Liam lives in a city without any trees, gardens or greenery. It is a gray and dreary place. One day Liam finds a tiny patch of plants on an abandoned railway and decides that he wants to tend them. As Liam becomes a better gardener, the garden itself comes alive and creeps into every corner of the city. This beautiful picture book shows how green growing things can transform a landscape and bring happiness to an entire city.
Crunch by Leslie Connor. Most of us cannot imagine a time when there would be no cars on the road, but Dewey Marriss is stuck right in the middle of just such a reality. Gas has completely run out and Dewey’s parents are stuck far away with no way to get home. Dewey and his older sister are left to run the family bicycle business, which is suddenly overwhelmingly busy. With trying to keep up with the orders pouring in and his parent’s absence, Dewey doesn’t think life can get any more out of hand. However, bicycle parts have begun to disappear from the shop. Will Dewey be able to catch the thief on top of everything else?
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. It is the year 241 and the city of Ember is meant to be the last stronghold of the human race. Ember is deep underground and is lit by yellow lights during the twelve hour days. The citizens believe that the darkness outside the city is dangerous and any plans to leave the city have been long forgotten. Then, the light generators begin to fail and food starts to run out. The Mayor of the city tells citizens not to worry, but twelve-year-old Lina believes that the people of the city must find a way to escape Ember. When Lina discovers a book of instructions to escape, it’s up to her and her friend Doon to help her people rediscover light and hope.
Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix. In the not so distant future, the human population has finally spiraled out of control, so the totalitarian government has limited every family to only two children. If families disobey, the Population Police will enforce awful punishments. Luke is a third child and he has spent his entire life hidden by his family. There was a time when Luke could play outside, but once the government decided to develop the land around his family’s house, Luke was confined to the attic. It isn’t until Luke glimpses what he believes to be another hidden third child that he begins to imagine a life lived on his own terms.
Divergent by Veronica Roth. No one knows for sure the real reason the world came to an end. The survivors have banded together and formed a society that is split into factions. In post-apocalyptic Chicago, Beatrice Prior has been dutifully working within her Abdegnation faction, always feeling that she doesn't quite belong. She is looking forward to her sixteenth birthday when she will be tested for her proclivities and then ushered into the appropriate faction. After her test is complete Beatrice is told in secret that she is a Divergent - one who does not wholly belong to any particular faction and is considered extremely dangerous to society. Beatrice makes the choice to enter the Dauntless faction on her sixteenth birthday. Now, the newly renamed Tris must struggle to survive the brutal initiation into Dauntless while getting sucked into political intrigues that will shake the foundation of the society she has always believed to be perfect.
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. In author Patrick Ness’ future world, a terrible plague has struck, leaving all of the women dead and the remaining men and boys infected with something called Noise. Noise makes the men and boys hear the thoughts of every other man and animal all the time. The remaining people cling to sanity as they come to terms with the constant barrage of the thoughts of others and having absolutely no privacy. Todd Hewitt has grown up in this reality and is readying himself to enter manhood. However, one day as he is exploring, Todd hears something very peculiar. Silence. This spot of silence turns out to be the unthinkable – a girl who has miraculously survived the plague. With an army chasing Todd and his new friend, Todd must discover his own self before it disappears into the endless Noise.
Blood Red Road by Moira Young. Twins Saba and Lugh live with their father and young sister in a future where the world has turned dry and dusty. People spend their days trying to scrape a living from the land and scavenging metal from a long deceased civilization called the Wreckers. Saba has always worshipped her brother Lugh and believes herself to be the dark to his light. When a sandstorm brings raiders that kill her father and kidnap Lugh, Saba will stop at nothing to get him back. On her journey Saba must overcome enslavement in a gladiator-like area and become the fearless leader she was meant to be. This excellent read combines all the edge-of-your seat action of “Hunger Games” in a gritty, desolate, wild-west world.
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. It is far in the future and life outside of cities has become unsustainable. All cities are fully mechanized, rolling on wheels or walking on legs across the surface of the globe. In order to survive, the largest cities do something called "municipal Darwinsim". Huge cities will chase down smaller cities and towns and consume them like food, stripping the towns of everything that is needed to sustain life. It is in this world that we meet Tom. Tom has played hooky in order to meet his hero, adventurer Thaddeus Valentine. When Valentine is confronted by known assassin Hester Shaw, Tom steps in front of his hero in a valiant effort to save him. In the process, Tom falls out of the city and becomes stranded in the Out Lands with Hester. In his quest to return to London with Hester, Tom will discover some grim truths that London's leaders have been keeping from the people of the city.
Green Angel by Alice Hoffman. Green has always lived happily with her parents and her younger sister. One of her favorite things is to journey to the city to sell her family’s produce. One day, Green’s parents and sister decide to go to the city and leave Green behind. Green is disappointed and sulky and cannot even bring herself to say goodbye when her family leaves. Then, a terrible calamity occurs. The entire city and surrounding countryside is destroyed by a firestorm. All within the city perish and many others are injured. A grief-stricken Green has to figure out how to survive without her entire family in this new, blighted landscape. This is a story written in Hoffman’s gorgeous prose about rising from the ashes and learning to love again.
The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz; illustrations by Alexis Seabrookand and The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden. Both of these fun books (and their sequels) are packed full with oodles of fun and interesting crafts, facts and skills. These books stimulate both imagination and curiosity, inviting kids to try everything from hiking and climbing, to building a campfire, to changing a tire and speaking a different language. Whether a cure for the indoor rainy day blues or helping kids gain useful skills on adventures outside, these two books are a blast to browse through.
Archery Fundamentals by Douglas Engh. You have to admit that Katniss has made archery incredibly cool. After I finished “Hunger Games”, I dug out my father’s old archery set and gave it a try. Unsurprisingly, I was completely awful, but I had such a terrific time I wanted to make an attempt at improving myself. Due to some stellar reviews, I picked up this item and I was very happy I did. Although I won’t use all of the information that this book contains, I was very grateful for some detailed instructions (and pictures) on how to adjust my grip and aim. That hay bale and practice target better beware my bow!
The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht; with contributions by Jim Grace; illustrations by Brenda Brown. The characters in dystopian fiction often find themselves in awful situations with no knowledge of how to survive it. Don’t let this happen to you - you can prepare yourself by reading this comprehensive worst-case survival handbook. This book goes over every possible situation that threatens life, limb or psyche and tells the reader how they can survive it. The authors have been truly creative and have attempted to think through every emergency situation. Indeed, after reading this book I began to think that dystopian characters have it easy (after all, dystopian characters don’t have to deal with teenage driving or fire-by-Thanksgiving-turkey-fryer).
The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It: The Complete Back-to-Basics Guide by John Seymour with Will Sutherland. This book provides details on living a completely self-sufficient life. This includes everything from growing your own food to raising animals to making clothing. In a time where many of us purchase the majority of the items in our homes, it’s fascinating to look at a way to live without buying anything. This book is comprehensive in nature, including pictures, how-tos and even discussions of the philosophy of self-sufficiency. “The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It” is a must read for those who are curious how to live in harmony with the environment without relying on any outside aid.
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. This book is a “Scarlett Letter” retelling that takes place in a dystopian future, where criminals are dyed a certain color according to their crime and a theocracy rules over all with an iron fist. Hannah Payne had an abortion, was found out and is thus dyed red for murder. She must learn to survive with her new status, while protecting the identity of the father of her child, who is a married man and a revered religious figure with a high position in the government.
Pure by Julianna Baggott. In Baggott’s post-apocalyptic world, the Detonations caused many strange things to happen to the people of earth. Living on the outside are the Wretches, people who were caught in the blast and have objects or living creatures fused to their bodies. Pressia is a Wretch, one who has a doll’s head fused to her arm. Pressia is on the run, trying to avoid the mandatory conscription into a rebel army that wants to bring down the Pure society. Pures are people who have ‘uncorrupted bodies’ and live within the safe, sterile world of the Dome. Inside the Dome, Partridge struggles to fit in and find answers about his deceased mother. When Partridge escapes the Dome to seek answers about his mother, he puts himself on a collision course with Pressia. When the two meet, their actions will have much further repercussions than either could imagine.
The Children of Men by P.D. James. In the year 2021, the human race is slowly going extinct. No new babies have been born since 1995 and the human race is in a state of turmoil. Violence and mass suicide has become widespread and rulers have become dictators and thugs. Oxford scholar Theo is the cousin of the current dictator of England. He lives a comfortable, dull and ordered existence. It isn’t until Theo unexpectedly encounters a group of unlikely revolutionaries that meaning and hope return to Theo’s life.
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. In post-apocalyptic Africa, a single woman survives a brutal attack on her village. Every other soul perished and the woman herself was brutally raped. She bore one daughter as a result of that rape who she named Onyesonwu, or “who fears death”. Onyesonwu grows throughout the book, both in experience and in strange magical powers. As the novel progresses Onyesonwu realizes that her fate is entwined with her people. She must find a way to stop the terrible injustices of her world. Although the author discusses some brutal things (genocide and genital mutilation, just to name a few) the overall theme of the story is hopeful.