Best YA Dystopian Novels for Middle & High School

Dystopian novels changed the YA book game back in 2008 when The Hunger Games was first published. While many students will read The Giver in school, there are many other thought-provoking and engaging YA dystopian novels. Dystopia is the genre that helps students think through complex questions while keeping them entertained and excited to pick up their books every day. Dystopian stories demand to be discussed and dissected with their tough questions and the way they force readers to look at the parallels between the dystopian world and our world today. This genre is perfect for all types of readers and can be easily brought into your classroom in a number of ways. Students can pick up a dystopian novel for their independent reading novel, you can use a handful of them in book clubs/lit circles, or you can pick one and use it as a whole class novel. The possibilities are endless with this genre. (To read more about why dystopia is oh-so-teachable, read my blog post HERE. To check out an epic list of lessons for any dystopian novel, find my other blog post HERE.)

Reading widely in the dystopian genre will inevitably help your students become stronger readers and critical thinkers. Thankfully, there is no shortage of well-written, thought-provoking YA dystopian novels! If you’re ready to engage your middle and high school readers, here are my favorite YA dystopian novels other than The Giver and The Hunger Games. I love and teach both of these, but if you’re here, you probably already know about them, too! These texts are the starting point in YA dystopia, and you most likely need more books to recommend to your dystopian superfans or more options to add to your curriculum, book club unit, or to-read list.

Many of these are YA titles that work for both middle and high school readers. I’ve also thrown in a few middle-grade books and a handful of titles best for grades 9-12. I’ve included labels next to each text, as well as my recommendation for the grade level. Please keep in mind these are just guidelines, and you may have readers in your room ready for some of the heavier dystopian texts.

These are tried-and-true student favorites that I highly recommend adding to your classroom library and even your curriculum!

Scythe by Neal Shusterman (YA, 7th & up)

Perfect for readers who love suspense and plot twists, Scythe is one of the most popular books in my classroom library year after year. Set in a futuristic world that has conquered death, Scythes are trained to kill to keep the human population down. This novel deals with deep questions about humanity and death and will have readers itching to read the sequels in this series. At 443 pages, Scythe appears intimidating, but it’s one of those books that manages to hook almost every reader if they give it a chance.

Legend by Marie Lu (YA, 6th & up)

This dual-point-of-view novel will engage your students with its thrilling and action-packed story set in apocalyptic Los Angeles. The story follows two main characters, June and Day. June is the Republic’s most-gifted graduate, and Day is the country’s most-wanted criminal. Little do they know, they might have more in common than they think. The first in a trilogy, Legend is great for readers looking for a fast-paced dystopia. PS: There are graphic novel adaptations as well!

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera (Middle Grade, 5th & up)

Perfect for fans of space adventures and readers looking for a dystopian novel with a unique setting, this is another fast-paced story with a lot on the line. Earth as we know it is gone, and Petra, her family, and a collective of scientists are leaving Earth. On the ship, Petra and the others will be placed in a form of cryogenic sleep to survive the hundreds-of-years journey to the new planet. But when Petra wakes up on the new planet, everything is wrong. Nobody has memories or stories from life before on Earth…except her. And it’s up to Petra to fight back against this new society that has erased everything that makes people human.

Matched by Allie Condie (YA, 7th & up)

Romance and dystopia in one novel? Say no more. Cassia lives in the Society, where everything is ordered and purposeful, including who she is “matched” with for her future spouse. But when she finally sees her match and it unexpectedly flashes to someone different, Cassia can’t help but wonder if The Society made a mistake. This trilogy will be flying off your shelves! If your students read and enjoyed The Selection, this one will be right up their alley (or vice versa).

Sanctuary by Abby Sher and Paola Mendoza (YA, 9th & up)

This masterful story is perfect for your students who want a contemporary novel with heavy themes. Sanctuary is one of those dystopian stories with a setting that feels frighteningly close to our current reality. In 2032, and all citizens must live with microchips implanted in their wrists, a measure to track people and identify undocumented immigrants. Vali has been living as an undocumented immigrant with a counterfeit chip, but when her mom’s chip stops working, the family is forced to leave their home of Vermont. On the run, their only hope is making it to California, the only sanctuary state that welcomes immigrants like Vali. But the journey does not go as planned, and Vali soon finds herself with her mom.

Want by Cindy Pon (YA, 7th & up)

Want is a sci-fi dystopia that will keep your students turning pages with its vivid writing and accessible themes. Jason Zhou lives in a futuristic Taipei covered in thick smog all the time. The rich can afford to buy longer lives by wearing special suits that protect them from harm, while the poor are defenseless against the pollution and viruses that have become the norm. But Zhou refuses to accept this as the norm. After the death of his mom, he is ready to tackle the injustice and corruption that plague his world. Want is a great text that helps readers explore environmental issues, the wealth gap, and more, all in an engaging, accessible way.

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau (Middle Grade, 5th & up)

The City of Ember is a short but thrilling middle-grade novel that will keep your students guessing throughout the whole story. Lina and Doon live in the City of Ember. Everything was meant to last, but lights are starting to flicker, things are beginning to break, and food is running out. Soon, many begin to wonder what else is outside of the City. Lina stumbles upon a mysterious message, setting off to decode it along with Doon. This story is full of clues, encouraging readers to solve this dystopian mystery before it’s too late for the characters.

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau (YA, 7th & up)

This trilogy is great for fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent who love strong female protagonists and dystopian competitions. Cia Vale is chosen to be a Testing candidate, one of the chosen few to rebuild the world after it was destroyed by wars and natural disasters. But not everything is what it seems. Like Katniss in The Hunger Games, Cia must decide who she can trust. This book will keep your students entertained and asking themselves: How far will you go to succeed?

Unwind by Neal Shusterman (YA, 7th & up)

All of Shusterman’s novels will get your students thinking about real-world problems, and Unwind is no different. The book takes place in a futuristic society where The Second Civil War was resolved with the following rule: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until the age thirteen. But between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, parents can have their child “unwound,” meaning all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors. This story follows three teens fighting to survive in this cruel dystopian world. The tough questions in this story will have your students thinking and discussing and will keep them involved in the reading the whole time.

Internment by Samira Ahmed (YA, 8th & up)

Like Sanctuary, this book is set in a near-future United States that won’t feel too unfamiliar to anyone who has been paying attention the last few years. In this dystopia, US history repeats itself, and Muslim Americans are sent to internment camps. When 17-year-old Layla and her family are forced into these inhumane conditions, she decides that she can still fight back from within the barbed-wire camp. Readers will appreciate how Layla is portrayed as an authentic teenager, one who is worried about the horrifying injustice around her AND typical teenage issues that don’t go away just because you’re living in a dystopia.

Divergent by Veronica Roth (YA, 7th & up)

For fans of The Hunger Games, Divergent is the next book to pick up. This story was also published in the big dystopian stage of the 2010s, but don’t let that deter you because it is a gripping story of finding yourself and overcoming fears. In Tris’ dystopian Chicago world, society is comprised of 5 factions dedicated to different virtues: Dauntless, Amity, Erudite, Abnegation, and Candor. At 16, individuals must determine the faction they will join forever. When it is time to select her faction, Tris must choose between her family and her true identity. While it’s a longer text, Divergent will keep readers engaged the entire time (and the movie is a nice perk, too).

Uglies by Scott Westerfield (YA, 6th & up)

Great for fans of both Matched and The Selection, Uglies is a blend of tough choices, survival, and following your heart. Hundreds of years after humans judged each other for their appearances, Tally’s world looks a lot different. Like everyone else her age, Tally is an “ugly” awaiting her 16th birthday, when she will undergo an operation to transform her into a perfect, confident “pretty.” Tally spends her days spying on the glamorous pretties until she meets a new friend, Shay. But Shay is different, a daring soul who hoverboards outside city limits and thinks there’s more to life than being pretty. Shay wants to do the unthinkable: stay ugly. When Shay runs away, soon Tally is questioning everything, too. Will Tally undergo her pretty operation, or will she leave the promise of perfection behind? Only the book will tell!

The List by Patricia Forde (Middle Grade, 5th & up)

If you’re looking for a solid middle grade dystopia to add to your classroom library, then The List is a must. Letta is an apprentice to the Wordsmith, the only person allowed to use more than the 500 sanctioned words in the city of Ark. But the more time Letta spends with words, the more she learns about the darker nature of her society and the reason behind the list. This is a great book to spark conversations about the power of language and coming-of-age journeys. Readers who enjoyed The Giver will appreciate The List’s take on censorship and the slow-burn mystery that comes with uncovering the dark truth about a dystopian society.

Flawed by Cecelia Ahern (YA, 6th & up)

Flawed is set in a dystopian world where perfection is expected and enforced. In this society, people are labeled and branded as “Flawed” for disobeying the rules or even making “wrong” decisions. The story follows 17-year-old Celestine, a rule-follower who believes in the system…until one decision changes her life, branding her “Flawed” forever. The book is fast-paced and accessible, with parallels to many popular dystopian novels. Fans of Uglies will appreciate the book’s take on moral “perfection,” readers who couldn’t get enough of The Selection will love the romance, Divergent readers will see the parallels between the “Flawed” and the factionless, and students who enjoyed The Giver will like seeing another failed attempt at a “perfect” society.

Children of Eden by Joey Graceffa (YA, 7th & up)

If you have students whose only experience with dystopia is Among the Hidden, this is a great book to recommend. Set in a future where Earth as we know it has been destroyed, humans live in an enclosed, protected society ruled by EcoPanopticon, an AI program designed to preserve Earth. In order to control the population, each family is allowed just one child. The book follows Rowan, a second child who has been hiding her entire life…until she decides to scale the walls and escape for a night. But Rowan gets more than she bargained for and soon has more questions than answers.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver (YA, 8th & up)

Delirium falls into the same romance and dystopia category as Matched, Uglies, and The Selection. This thrilling dystopian trilogy also tends to appeal to fans of The Giver who were intrigued by the premise of a society without love. In a futuristic United States, love has been declared a disease and the government forces everyone who reaches 18 to have a procedure called the Cure. Lena is preparing to undergo the surgery when she meets a boy whose existence and values challenge everything she’s ever known. Soon, Lena is wondering What if and imagining a world full of love.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (YA, 8th & up)

If you’ve ever had readers complain that all YA dystopian novels follow similar tropes, recommend The Marrow Thieves. This post-apocalyptic dystopia is set in a world destroyed by global warming, but with a wild twist: Humans are no longer able to dream…and the only cure comes from stealing the marrow from Indigenous people. The book follows a group of friends fighting for survival in a world working against them. The Marrow Thieves is perfect for a reader who enjoys survival stories and appreciates a dystopia that does not shy away from heavy topics and social issues.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (YA, 9th & up)

Great for fans of video games and all things 1980s pop culture, Ready Player One is the perfect blend of science fiction and dystopia. Wade Watts is obsessed with the virtual utopia OASIS and spends all of his time studying the puzzles hidden within the world. When Wade finds the first clue, he has to do everything he can to survive, not only in the OASIS but in the real world, too. This story is full of references to movies, books, games, and so many puzzles for your students to decipher that it will keep them engaged throughout the whole book.

The Getaway by Lamar Giles (YA, 8th & up)

The Getaway is a dark, dystopian horror novel for mature readers who want something a little more gritty along the lines of Jordan Peele and Black Mirror. Jay is living in Karloff Country, a unique theme park, resort, and community protected from the outside world. But soon, something starts happening outside, and wealthy, powerful people begin moving into Karloff Country…and employees begin disappearing. Jay and his friends quickly pick up on the darker nature of this new norm, but nothing could prepare them for the horrifying reality they are forced to confront.

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett (YA, 9th & up)

The Grace Year has been called the female version of Lord of the Flies, and for good reason! It is the perfect blend of survival, friendship, and figuring out who a person truly is when no one is watching. Tierney has always been a free spirit, but in Garner County that is the exact opposite of what she’s supposed to be. Before their 16th birthday, girls are banished to an encampment deep in the wilderness for their “grace year” to purge all their dangerous magic. Tierney’s only goal is to survive her year, but things go differently than anyone expects and nothing can prepare her for what is about to happen. It’s real, it’s heartbreaking, and it will resonate with many of your students when they are trying to figure themselves out.


I hope these recommendations help you and your students find even more dystopian books to read and love! These are just a few dystopian novels for both middle and high school students, but there are plenty of other high-interest, exciting, and fast-paced books out there! If I’ve missed one of your students’ favorites, let me know in the comments. I love discovering new books and adding them to my recommendation toolbox. 

WANT MORE BOOK RECS?

If you like these recommendations, then you’ll love these book recommendation brochures. Each brochure includes an interactive reader personality quiz that automatically gives students personalized book recs based on their interests. In fact, most of the above books (and dozens more) are featured in the different genre brochures. 

These book brochures are the perfect way to take your book advertising to the next level. You can check out the full collection of genre brochures HERE. It’s a magical, self-sustaining system that will help your students answer the questions, “What do I read next?”

READY TO TEACH DYSTOPIA?

If you are teaching dystopian whole-class novels or book clubs feel free to check out my blog post HERE that talks about 10 different activities for teaching any dystopian novel. Or you can check out my bundle on TPT with activities to use with any novel to make your unit a complete success!

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