57 Fantastic, Imaginative, and Dystopian YA Novels
I've read a lot of YA in the last few years. And I started a YA Book & Movie Club. So I figured it was about time for me to write this post! I have personally read every book in this post, so keep reading for my honest opinions!
The Legend Trilogy
From the publisher: What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.
My take: I really enjoyed these books. June is a tough girl, and Day is deceptively sweet. I liked watching their stories play out - and I loved how imaginative this version of the future is. Like Antarctican society? So cool! (Haha, pun intended.)
The Divergent Trilogy
From the publisher: Beatrice Prior's society is divided into five factions—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Beatrice must choose between staying with her Abnegation family and transferring factions. But the newly christened Tris also has a secret, one she's determined to keep hidden, because in this world, what makes you different makes you dangerous.
My take: These are fun, but not very well-written. (I mean for starters: the five factions' names should at least all be the same parts of speech! It should totally be Amicable instead of Amity, etc.) I thought the ending of the trilogy was really brave, but I found it incredibly exasperating that although Allegiant is told alternately from Tris and Four's points of view, you couldn't even tell their voices apart. I've only seen the first movie - but I think this is the rare exception, where the story translates better on film than on paper.
The Lunar Chronicles
From the publisher: Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth's fate hinges on one girl. . . . Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She's a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister's illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai's, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world's future.
My take: I love these books so much. Marissa Meyer does a great job of twisting fairy tales (Scarlet is a reworking of Little Red Riding Hood, Cress is Rapunzel, and Winter is going to be Snow White). They're clever and romantic and action-packed, and I love how each book builds on the book(s) before it.
The Hunger Games
From the publisher:Do you really need a publisher summary for these? Really?
My take: Loved the first two books a lot. Was underwhelmed by book 3. But I was pleasantly surprised by Mockingjay part 1, the movie, so we'll see if Mockingjay part 2 can hold up.
Graceling Realm Books
From the publisher: Kristin Cashore’s best-selling, award-winning fantasy Graceling tells the story of the vulnerable yet strong Katsa, a smart, beautiful teenager who lives in a world where selected people are given a Grace, a special talent that can be anything from dancing to swimming. Katsa’s is killing. As the king’s niece, she is forced to use her extreme skills as his thug. Along the way, Katsa must learn to decipher the true nature of her Grace . . . and how to put it to good use.
My take: I liked Graceling a lot. Fire, the companion novel, was really good too... but kind of the same thing over again (themes of a girl who's scared of her own talent, etc). Bitterblue, the sequel to Graceling, was ok. I appreciated what Cashore was trying to do, but it fell a little flat for me.
The Grisha Trilogy
From the publisher: Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life--a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
My take: These books are FANTASTIC. They're dark and romantic, and creepy, and just really good reading. Ravka is clearly inspired by Imperial Russia, and I loved the aspects of the story that dovetail with Russian history. The mystical leaning of these books makes them super magical and, oh how I love a character that is introduced in book 2... (don't worry, I won't say any more, I don't want to spoil things!)
The Birthmarked Trilogy
From the publisher: Sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone and her mother faithfully deliver their quota of three infants every month. But when Gaia's mother is brutally taken away by the very people she serves, Gaia must question whether the Enclave deserves such loyalty.
My take: I really enjoyed the fact that Gaia was a midwife, not a fighter, so these books weren't as battle-oriented as some of the other books mentioned in this post. Plus it brought up some surprisingly thought-provoking discussion on reproductive rights, gender roles, and such. Because women are in such high demand in this future world, Gaia actually ends up in a love square, instead of the typical YA love-triangle.
The Matched Trilogy
From the publisher: Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.
The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.
My take:I thought the beginning was inventive, I really liked the world-building. But there wasn't a ton of plot to books 2 and 3... just a lot more love triangley-ness. They're fast, romantic reads though, if that's what you're in the mood for!
The Raven Cycle
From the publisher: Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them--until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her.
His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.
But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can't entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little.
My take:These books are AMAZING. Hands down, if you only read one series off this list, pick this one. They're magical, and weird, and dark, and brilliant, and unputdownable. I have raved time and again about what a gifted writer Maggie Stiefvater is, and these books are her best work to date.
The Ruby Red Trilogy
From the publisher: Gwyneth Shepherd's sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era! Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon--the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust.
My take: These are pure book candy. Romantic, set in England, with time-traveling! What's not to love? Don't look too hard at the time-travel logic, or you will quickly see holes in the theory. But Gwyneth is a great character, Gideon is, of course, a dreamy bloke, and the books are perfect beach reads.
The Red Rising Trilogy
From the publisher: Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.
But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and lush wilds spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.
Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies . . . even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.
My take:These are dark and reeeeally violent, but also really good. I like the Martian world-building, and the class issues that come up, making Darrow question the nature of his own humanity. I'm reading Golden Son slowly, since it's still a few months before the last book comes out.
From the publisher:Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him -- something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn't she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd's gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.
My take: These were a little difficult to get used to at first, since you're reading everyone's stream-of-consciousness thoughts. But after a couple chapters it's addicting. And it makes you wonder how awful life would be if you couldn't keep your thoughts to yourself!
From the publisher: It's a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone. Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they're worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.
My take: I've only read the first book, These Broken Stars, which is the one described above. It works really well as a standalone, but it was fun and well-written, so I think I'll eventually get to the other books in the trilogy.
The Winners Trilogy
From the publisher: They were never meant to be together. As a general's daughter, seventeen-year-old Kestrel enjoys an extravagant and privileged life. Arin has nothing but the clothes on his back. Then Kestrel makes an impulsive decision that binds Arin to her. Though they try to fight it, they can't help but fall in love. In order to be together, they must betray their people . . . but to be loyal to their country, they must betray each other.
My take:These books were clearly inspired by Roman history/culture. I find it interesting that the publisher's description is so vague about Kestrel's "impulsive decision" - because what actually happened was that she bought Arin at a slave market. The writing isn't phenomenal, but it's solid. And the world-building is great. I'm excited to read book 3 when it comes out next year.
Ready Player One
From the publisher: In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win—and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.
My take:Are you ready for this?? A STANDALONE book. I really loved it a lot, it made me wish I was a gamer so that I would've understood all the references. And it was just so refreshing not to have to read a trilogy or quartet.
The Study Trilogy
From the publisher: About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She'll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace- and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia. And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly's Dusté and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison. As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can't control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren't so clear—.
My take:Speaking of standalones, I kind of wish Poison Study was one. It's the first book, and it was exceptionally good. Then books 2 and 3 were exceptionally not. So honestly, I would just read the first book. It has a decently happy ending, and then you won't have to discover the massive plot holes in the later books.
From the publishers: It isn’t easy being the rather overlooked and unhappy youngest sibling to sisters named for the other six days of the week. Sunday’s only comfort is writing stories, although what she writes has a terrible tendency to come true. When Sunday meets an enchanted frog who asks about her stories, the two become friends. Soon that friendship deepens into something magical. One night Sunday kisses her frog goodbye and leaves, not realizing that her love has transformed him back into Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland—and a man Sunday’s family despises.
My take: I found Enchanted, Sunday's story a bit bizarre, but enjoyable, with its mishmash of multiple fairytales. I thought Hero, Saturday's story, was totally crazy. So I haven't yet decided if I should read Dearest, Friday's story.
The Heroes of Olympus
From the publishers: Piper's father has been missing for three days, ever since she had that terrifying nightmare about his being in trouble. Piper doesn’t understand her dream, or why her boyfriend suddenly doesn’t recognize her. When a freak storm hits during the school trip, unleashing strange creatures and whisking her, Jason, and Leo away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood, she has a feeling she’s going to find out.
My take: I would call the original Percy Jackson series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, a little more kid lit than YA, because the books start when he's 11. But this second series, the Heroes of Olympus, is a little darker, and more teenagery, but just as fun. And really informative - I learned so much about Greek and Roman mythology while reading these!
Other books I've been thinking about reading: the Selection books, and the Miss Peregrine books.
Authors who didn't make my list, because I couldn't decide if their books were more YA or more kid lit: Robin McKinley, Madeleine L'Engle, Shannon Hale, Lloyd Alexander.
What else should I add to my list?
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