Updated: Dec 19, 2021
The Dystopian genre is a little bit different than other genres. I would generally consider it a genre of its own (as opposed to a sub-genre) though there tends to be less books in the genre than there are in others. I think this might be because it is a difficult genre to write. Most dystopian books generally have political commentary of some sort, and they must give it in a way that clearly states what they are trying to say without stating it so bluntly that they get into trouble.
Dystopian books also often follow the same general plotline which can make it difficult for writers attempting to deviate from the plotline. In general, this is the plotline you can see played out in dystopian books:
The reader is introduced to one or more characters living in a dystopian society (see below for the definition of "dystopian")
The character/s are motivated by something or someone to join or are simply recruited into an organization looking to fight the dystopian society
The character/s realize that, in some way, the organization they have agreed to join has flaws, is no better, or is worse than the society they face
The character/s either fix the flaw in the organization and continue to fight with them against the society, fix the flaw in the society and unite with them against the organization, or create their own revolution against both.
Sometimes, one or more plot points is missing in the dystopian novel (or series) and sometimes the plot is entirely different (cheers all around because that is really difficult to do!) but most often, this is the general outline you will see. You can somewhat find the Outline in most of the books listed below but in particular, Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Matched Series all follow this general layout.
The one big frustrating thing with dystopian books is that they almost never show how the society was fixed. Most commonly, once the last battle is over, characters are reunited and/or buried (if they died) and a few last words are said, the book ends. We most often do not see how the new government was laid out which can be frustrating since the whole series or book was about the issues with the first government (or society as a whole).
All this to say, if you are writing dystopian books, I highly suggest diverging from the general plotline and including at the very least, an epilogue that shows the rebuilt and renewed society.
Before I go on to describe a few of my favorite dystopians, though, I thought I would give you an actual definition of "dystopian," "dystopia" and the "dystopian genre."
Dystopian: The official google definition of dystopian is "relating to or denoting an imagined state or society where there is great suffering or injustice." Thus of a book, it describes a novel that is set in a place where there is great suffering or injustice.
Dystopia: Wikipedia defines dystopia as "a fictional community or society that is undesirable or frightening" but it is also a place where there is "great suffering or injustice." It is the antonym of utopia which is essentially a "perfect" place especially in its morals, and political and social climate. While Wikipedia may describe it as "fictional" there are and have been real "dystopias" in present-day and throughout history.
Dystopian Genre: Studiobinder describes the dystopian genre as the genre which "imagines worlds or societies where life is extremely bad because of deprivation or oppression or terror, and human society is characterized by human misery, such as squalor, oppression, disease, overcrowding, environmental destruction, or war."
The Matched Series (Matched, Crossed, and Reached) by Ally Condie
I love the Matched series. I think I got Matched somehow as a gift or maybe as a prize for the Library summer reading program, we have here. Either way, I did not know what it was until I read it. Then I fell in love.
The book is slightly different than most dystopian novels in one way only: it centers around love. While most dystopians center around politics as they relate to some kind of mistreatment of a particular group of people or something else slightly more "political," the Matched series is very much telling the reader "love cannot be calculated."
In the society that the main character lives in, a lot of things are controlled. One of them, however, is the person you marry. This is a struggle for Cassia Reyes who accidentally gets Matched with someone she was not supposed to. The problem is fixed but Cassia continues to dwell on the face she saw first, the man she is not supposed to love.
While the series does, in general, follow a similar plot to the one outlined above, the feel is very different from the other dystopians I have read because it isn't about wars, revolutions, and politics. It is about love and being true to one's heart. I would recommend this book series for anyone who enjoys a good romance or a good dystopian because the series is both.
Also, a note on the covers. I have heard some people enjoy them and some hate them. I absolutely love them. They are simple and sleek and yet, in both color and imagery, they represent so much! I love having them displayed on my shelf.
The Selection Series by Kiera Cass
I, unfortunately, own very few of The Selection Series. I read it for the first time because I heard many good things about it and wanted to try it out (I borrowed it from the library). I believe I had even overheard some of the more "popular" girls in my grade who did not enjoy reading whatsoever, enjoyed reading this series.
It is understandable why they would enjoy the series. Not only it is a romance, but the main character is a strong female character who, though falling for a man, does not need a male savior. She can save herself!
I would compare America Singer (the main character) to Linh Cinder of The Lunar Chronicles and Mare Barrow of The Red Queen Series. All three females are strong characters that can save themselves. That is not to say they don't fall for men and have awesome romances within the series. But they do not let the men stop them from being who they are, expressing themselves, and fighting for themselves and their people. In fact, if the men try to do so, the women make it clear that this part of them comes before their relationship with the boys!
If you want to read about strong women like this, if you enjoy love triangles or love itself, or if you enjoy dystopian novels, read "The Selection Series."
Other Well Known Dystopians:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth
You have probably heard of The Hunger Games and Divergent. The two book series are dystopians and are well known not only for their movies but for their trilogy book series that hundreds of thousands of young adults across the globe have read. I do enjoy these series and own the full sets of both of them. However, I do feel that they are a bit overrated as many books that get the popularity they have are. That is not to say I would not suggest reading them (I would). They are good books, well written and exciting. They are not, however, worth the hype they receive. Though the books are better than the movies.
Divergent is more similar to Darkest Minds (which is another Dystopian I would suggest reading) or other books in which characters are split into groups. Books like these reveal that humans simply cannot be split into categories. Divergent involves more action and less death than Hunger Games it is lighter and revolves around the previously mentioned theme rather than politics (though the political system is brought down). My biggest frustration with Divergent was that I felt there were those who died in the series who did not need to. Writers would only kill off characters if doing so furthers the plot, rounds out character development, or otherwise adds to the novel. I felt there was a better way to play some of the deaths in these books.
The Hunger Games is, in my opinion, slightly darker than "Divergent" given that it involves much more death. Of the two, I prefer The Hunger Games mostly because I feel the author did a good job of killing only those who were necessary to kill for the plotline. I would suggest The Hunger Games if you are a fan of love triangles, darker books, or politics over action and love.
I have read the following dystopian books for classes in the past. I personally did not enjoy them but if you are a fan of dystopians, you might have more fun reading them than I did. Try your luck with the following:
Lord of the Flies