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Happy birthday to shelled_avenger, ebonage, and frodosweetstuff. And happy early birthday to primroseburrows, gbsteve, eowynmaiar, and sally_maria. May all of you, my friends, enjoy many happy returns of the day!

When I recently made a post about young adult dystopias, I received several comments asking for my "best of" or favorites list. While I have not by any means read all of the books on my list, I am making good headway: obviously, I draw my list specifically from those books I have read. I will mention the premise of each work I recommend, but I will avoid all spoilers. If I include every book I like, this won't be a short list, so I'll try to stick to my very top recommendations. I hope this is of interest/use to you!

And so, without further ado...

Mary's Country by Harold Mead (1957)
This book deserves to be much more widely read than it is. My understanding is that it came out too soon after both 1984 and Lord of the Flies, and became characterized as a mixture of the two, although that's a gross oversimplification to this haunting and sensitive novel. This is the story of what happens to the isolated young people who were being groomed for leadership in a totalitarian regime when their country is hit by the enemy's biological weapons, and the children are free to flee on their own. It is a beautiful story about what makes us human and what gives us hope.

The Tripods Series by John Christopher (1968-1988)
This post-apocalyptic series about struggle against enslavement by alien invaders is a classic for a reason, and a terrific study of independent thought and the human spirit.

The Missing Person's League by Frank Bonham (1976)
If you can find a used copy of this novel, grab it. I actually read this book first when I was nine or ten (if you're a thirtysomething American like me, you may remember how we could buy paperbacks at school from that insert in Weekly Reader), and it stuck with me over the decades. It's still a very compelling story today. In a future world of environmental collapse, a young boy faces the fear of a dying Earth and the mystery of his missing family - only to discover that the two are linked.

The Last Children of Schewenborn (also spelled Schevenborn) by Gudrun Pausewang (1983)
This is an unflinching and unsentimental look at a German family's life after a nuclear apocalypse. It's all the more powerful for its stark, steady style.

The Tomorrow Series by John Marsden (1994-1999) and The Ellie Chronicles (2003-2006)
For a time, there were ongoing discussions about "What's your next Harry Potter?" In other words, what would be the next series to catch fire in you and require rapid consumption and multiple rereadings? Without a doubt, this series is mine. I picked up the first book just to get a sense of the series, and the next thing I knew, I'd devoured all of the books and was ready to go through them a second time. Set in a near-future Australia that is invaded by an unnamed enemy nation, this series follows a compelling group of teenagers through the harrowing and life-changing experiences of war and its aftermath, while struggling with the big questions that both inevitably raise.

The Aughts (It was very difficult to limit myself here!)
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (2004)
This is a dark and compelling psychological study of a U.S. girl who finds herself in the U.K. countryside with her cousins when war erupts and the world turns upside down.

The Inferior by Peadar ó Guilín (2007)
I can't think of a more subtle, fascinating, and disturbing exploration of what it means to be civilized. This novel follows the brutal daily realities of what seems to be a primitive hunting society, only to reveal that not all is as it seems. The moment I can preorder the sequel, I will.

Bad Faith by Gillian Philip (2008)
This is a very clever murder mystery set in a future U.S.A. in which the church and state have joined forces. (Imagine the Department of Homeland Security run by televangelists. I told you this was a dystopia.) The voice of the young protagonist is one of the most engaging I've read.

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (2008-2010)
What can I possibly say about this series that hasn't already been said? Read it!

Neptune's Children by Bonnie Dobkin (2008)
I'm surprised this little gem of a novel hasn't received more attention. When an international group of children are stranded in an amusement park in the U.S.A. after a biological weapon attack rapidly kills all adults, they build a life together - and a government. But whoever controls the park, controls the other children, and power corrupts.

Candor by Pam Bachorz (2009)
This is another excellent work with very meaningful philosophical implications. Do those kids who live in that exclusive gated community seem perfect? Maybe they have no choice. What follows is an unsettling and inspiring meditation on individuality, free will, and coercion.

Genesis by Bernard Beckett (2009)
This is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece I can't recommend highly enough. Imagine an isolated island preserved from world plague by its remote location. Now imagine the inhabitants creating a community based on Plato's Republic. Whatever you expect this book will be, I promise, it will surprise you.

Dark Life by Kat Falls (2010)
Although I've already read several YA dystopias published in 2010, none of them have impressed me as much as those above. I was pleased, however, by how much the dark adventure of this book - set on an overcrowded Earth in which "pioneers" are moving to underwater communities to harness the resources of the ocean - reminded me of the classic "juveniles" by Robert A. Heinlein that I enjoy so much, especially Farmer in the Sky. So there.

And now, for your edification and entertainment, here's the Periodic Chart of Women in Science Fiction:

"The only thing binding individuals together is ideas. Ideas mutate and spread; they change their hosts as much as their hosts change them."
- Bernard Beckett, Genesis


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 4th, 2010 02:31 pm (UTC)
Why, thank you *blushes boyishly*
Jun. 4th, 2010 02:39 pm (UTC)
Hey, I just call 'em like I see 'em!
Jun. 4th, 2010 03:19 pm (UTC)
Thank you! :))))
Jun. 4th, 2010 03:29 pm (UTC)
My pleasure! I didn't set out to do this, but I realize that it turned out to be an international mix, with English, Irish, Scottish, German, Australian, New Zealand, and American authors represented. Cool!

Edited at 2010-06-04 03:31 pm (UTC)
Jun. 4th, 2010 04:26 pm (UTC)
Go Genesis! Amy, you already know, I agree with you 1000% on Bernard Beckett's book. Others should not let it's length (short) discourage them from treating it seriously. Short is a feature, not a bug.

-The Fredösphere
Jun. 4th, 2010 04:35 pm (UTC)
Well said indeed! Great minds think alike, no? *wink*

I nominated it for the Hugo. Too bad it didn't make the list of finalists. Ah, well - there are other reasons to be excited about this year's Hugos, I suppose. (Haha!)

Edited at 2010-06-04 04:36 pm (UTC)
Jun. 4th, 2010 11:54 pm (UTC)
I have The Hunger Games. Clearly, I need to bump it up my list of Things To Be Read.

No The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves?
Jun. 5th, 2010 12:04 pm (UTC)
I heartily recommend The Hunger Games! The third and last book in the trilogy is due out in August. Not long now!

I really liked The Forest of Hands and Teeth a lot. It was fresh and unusual and spooky, and I really liked the way the author explored the ideas of the quasi-religious state and the knowledge it repressed. Unfortunately, The Dead-Tossed Waves didn't strike quite the same note for me. I think part of it was the voice of the heroine (who seemed whiny and melodramatic), part of it was the action (which felt like a reverse of the journey in the first novel), and part of it was the absence of the same ideas about institutions and knowledge and coercion. Does that make any sense? I think I'm in the minority there, though. What did you think of the sequel?

The series that was hardest for me to leave off the list was Susan B. Pfeffer's post-apocalyptic trilogy Life As We Knew It, The Dead And The Gone, and This World We Live In. *sigh*
Jun. 5th, 2010 12:08 am (UTC)
The Tomorrow Series was my Harry Potter too. I read the first at the beginning of high school, when only two of them were out and spent ages discussing them with my friends as we waited impatiently for the next. I'm a purist though. I prefer to imagine the series finishing after the third book, and I don't acknowledge The Ellie Chronicles at all. ;)

I know there were published outside Australia, but I was still surprised when they turned up on this list. What are your thoughts on the movie due to come out later this year? Promising? Appalling?

Thanks for the list. I will have to revisit it when I have time to read, again.
Jun. 5th, 2010 11:57 am (UTC)
Yay, another fan of the Tomorrow series! I only discovered them a few years ago, and I thought they were amazing. I can only imagine how much fun it must have been to read them as they were coming out and discuss them with friends.

I've only seen one trailer for the upcoming film: it was very brief, but it looked promising. The cynic in me says I'm sure they'll find some way to mess it up, but the optimist in me says, if nothing else, it may drive more people to read the books. You probably have a much more informed opinion. What do you think?

Since I read them all in one great gulp (I had to import the last book from Australia, since it wasn't due out in the States for a number of months, and I couldn't wait that long!), I didn't think too much about the line dividing the Tomorrow series and the Ellie Chronicles. Is it common for fans to reject the latter books?

Since I read those, I've bought a few more of Marsden's books. Winter is the only one I've read thus far - I need to read more! Any recommendations?

For this list, I went with my favorites, and only after I'd put together the titles did I realize what an international mix is is, including authors from Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, and the USA.
Jun. 6th, 2010 03:54 am (UTC)
Is it common for fans to reject the latter books?

I know that a lot of people, like me, who grew up with the series, feel the first three are the best and that Marsden should have stopped there. I think teenagers who read the series later, as the Ellie Chronicles were being written, are less critical. It's hard to objectively analyse a series you've read over a spread of ten years, starting as a kid. I feel that The Third Day, the Frost was a beautiful, heart rending and reasonably believable place to finish the series. I know they were wildly successful, and financially it made sense to string the series out, but I think that artistically the story should have ended there. Perhaps that was even Marsden's original intention. As for the Ellie Chronicles, I read the first one and... didn't hate it or anything, but it felt wrong to me. It didn't really have a chance, as I already disapproved of the last several Tomorrow books. Like I said, hard to analyse my experience with that series. I'm the same with Isobelle Carmody's Obernewtyn Chronicles. I read the first two when I was twelve. I'm turning thirty this year and the last one comes out early next year. *sigh*

As for the upcoming movie, I'm not convinced it's going to adequately capture the feeling of the books. Yet when I try to critique the trailer I just come up with trivial things, like Ellie is way too pretty, looks nothing like a farm girl, and wears a cowboy hat rather than an akubra. That little detail makes me wonder if it's being tailored towards an American audience. Yes, I know, it is a very trivial quibble. I guess I'll have to reserve judgment

You might be interested in this clip. It's from a show called Q and A, where a bunch of panelists - politicians from both sides plus other public figures - answer questions from the audience and debate current events. It's surprisingly lively and fun. In this one, John Marsden gets asked about who the invaders are and the implications this has for Australia. It shows how significant the books are in Australian culture, as several of the panelists have read them.

I haven't read a great deal of Marsden's other stuff, especially his later books. I think the first book of his that really received attention was So Much to Tell You which is the diary of a 14 year old boarding school girl, who has undergone an experience so traumatic that she hasn't spoken since. The diary is about her school life and the other boarders, but you gradually find out what happened to her as she finds ways to deal with it. It's quite beautiful. There's a sequel, the diary of another girl in the dorm, that isn't bad. They're nothing like the Tomorrow series, but they're lovely in their own way.
Jun. 6th, 2010 04:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for your terrific and thoughtful reply! I definitely can understand how the timing of your reading of the series - both in terms of your age, and because you were getting them as they were published, one by one - would make a difference in how you view the books. I can only imagine that reading them in one gulp, when I was in my thirties, makes a difference in my perceptions of them. I'll confess admit that I really liked the last book of the Ellie Chronicles - it felt very "full circle" to me - and that's why I was curious about readers possibly rejecting it.

I loved the video clip! Thank you so much for sharing it with me. That does show his impact on the culture. I'm so impressed with how he gives young people credit for being capable actors in the world - and how he seems to give deep thought to the morality of his message and how it is represented.

It is worrisome, though, if he has no say in the film adaptation. And the details you pointed out also give good reason to be wary about the movie. I do hope the filmmakers don't go out of their way to make it speak to U.S. or other markets - the ideas transcend any one nation anyway, so they will translate, but the personality of the story, and much of its attraction, comes from its distinct Australianness.

I'll definitely check out So Much to Tell You. Thanks for the suggestion!
Jun. 5th, 2010 06:47 pm (UTC)
Cool - I have a few new ones now :) A warning to all on The Last Children - I'm the oversensitive type, and I was about 11 when I first read it, but it absolutely broke me - nightmares for years. Definitely something to be very wary of considering I'm a huge fan generally of dark, scary dystopia.
Jun. 6th, 2010 04:47 pm (UTC)
Excellent point! Thank you for mentioning that.

I'm glad the experience didn't put you off of dystopias altogether!
Jun. 10th, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
I love your list posts! They are so helpful, since I have a hard time finding a wide range of Dystopian Fiction where I live. This gives me a jumping off point! :)
Jun. 11th, 2010 04:39 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm thrilled they're useful to you. Happy reading!
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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