Now that “The Hunger Games” has been released on DVD, students are being reminded of how much fun it was to read the books for the first time. Some of my students are picking up the books to read them again, but most of them are coming to me for recommendations of similar books to read in their free time.
Luckily, there is no shortage of books that are similar to “The Hunger Games.” Suzanne Collins’ trilogy falls firmly into the category of dystopian literature — literature that shows a “perfect” world and takes one aspect to an extreme in order to show us the dangers of such extremes in our society — and authors have been producing dystopian literature for decades.
Dystopian literature is so popular, especially right now, because of the anxiety of these times. We are facing a global recession, war, and a new tragedy every time we turn on the news. People turn to dystopian literature in these times because it calls to our attention the possibility of a different world, and makes us think about how much worse the world could actually be. Furthermore, each dystopian novel is equipped with its own Katniss — its own hero willing to risk everything to make the world a better place. For this reason, people with idealistic tendencies, and especially teenagers, love dystopian fiction because they still believe that the world can be improved.
Whatever your reason for loving dystopian literature, there is plenty of it to choose from. Some of the best authors in the world have written classic dystopian fiction for you and your teen to enjoy, and the following slideshow will give you some ideas for what to read after you’ve finished “The Hunger Games.”
“Fahrenheit 451″ by Ray Bradbury
In Ray Bradbury’s classic novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” the main character, Guy Montag, lives in a world where books are illegal. Not only is reading against the law, but firefighters’ job is not to put out fires, but to set books on fire. As a fireman himself, Montag starts to question the illegal nature of books after he sees a woman who would rather die than see her books torched. When Montag meets his new next-door neighbor, Clarisse, she helps him see a world where people think, talk and read rather than punch buttons and look at computer screens. When it comes to teaching teenagers the importance of reading and critical thinking, “Fahrenheit 451″ has some great lessons.
“The Giver” by Lois Lowry
Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” is a children’s book, but that doesn’t mean that teenagers won’t enjoy it. While it will be a quick read for them, it is packed with interesting themes and food for thought. In this book, 12-year-old Jonas lives in a society that is supposed to be perfect. In Jonas’s world, there is no pain or sadness, but along with that, there is also no love, family, color, or deeper knowledge. When Jonas is elected to be the next “Receiver of Memory,” he meets the “Giver” who imparts on him the knowledge of what the world was like before emotion was taken away. With this knowledge, Jonas is left with a choice: does he open up the world to joy and the pain that comes with it, or allow people to remain in their ignorance?
“1984″ by George Orwell
The term “Big Brother” was not coined by a television show, but rather by George Orwell in his classic dystopian novel “1984.” This novel is the perfect book for anyone, teenagers included, who is interested in government conspiracy, mind control, and revolution against a government so powerful they can tell you what to think. The hero of this story, Winston Smith, works as a revisionist news writer whose job it is to rewrite news articles so they match the current political party. Among this, the public is persecuted for individualism and critical thought. Winston Smith spends his days hoping that he can someday revolt against this mind control. This book shows us the dangers of giving any governing body too much power.
“Anthem” by Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand is known for her politics and ideologies and, while we might not always agree with them, her short novel, “Anthem” is a good example of classic dystopian literature. In it, people are persecuted for individual activities. The people of the society are given jobs based on where society needs them, and they are forbidden to love or have friends or family. The main character, Equality 7-2521, dreams of being a Scholar but, instead, is assigned the job of Street Sweeper. One day, when he happens upon a hole in the ground from an ancient subway system, he decides to use that place for his experiments. When he makes an important discovery and is exiled for it, he finally has the chance to develop a society the way he thinks it should be.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
The society in “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood is a feminist dystopia, which is something we don’t see all that often. In the book, a theocracy has overthrown the government and formed the Republic of Gilead. In this republic, women’s assets have been frozen and they are not able to do much without the permission of men. Soon, women become servants to men, and their sole purpose is to bear children. The book’s heroine, Offred, serves a very high-ranking man and, through him, is shown what a new society might look like. While she goes on to break many of the rules of the society in which she lives, this novel shows us the dangers of limiting the rights of women.
“Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
English author William Golding published “Lord of the Flies” in 1954. In it, a group of young boys are stranded on a deserted island and have to make an attempt at creating their own government. While a world without adults might seem like the ideal situation for any teenage boy, it ends up being far from it. The boys generally disintegrate into paranoia and scheming against each other. While the book has won many awards and been hailed by critics as being one of the top 100 best English-language novels, it raises many questions that teens should talk about regarding human nature. Do people, if left to their own devices, resort to the lowest common denominator as they do in “Lord of the Flies,” or do they band together for the common good?
“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley
As is the way with many dystopian novels, individuality is not only frowned upon, but punished in “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. In this novel, the governing body wants people to be happy, so love is forbidden, everyone must take daily grams of soma to ward off depression, and babies are born in test tubes. While Huxley, like many dystopian writers, foreshadows quite a few of the conveniences we have today, he draws to our attention the drawbacks of taking this too far.