With the Hunger Games film here, some avid Panem fans may be going through what I’d like to call Katniss Withdrawal. There’s only so long one can be away from good Young Adult dystopian fantasy featuring interesting female protagonists, after all. Well, relax, fellow bleak future addicts, because your local booksellers and the ebook community are swimming with other great titles to fulfill your post-Hunger Game needs. Here are only five of the titles making waves in the YA market, each with their own heroines just waiting to lead you through the wastelands.
Delirium by Lauren Oliver is a novel set in a post-revolution Portland, Maine, where society has classified love as a disease to be avoided at all costs. Lena grows up believing that she has to get a surgical procedure when she turns eighteen or forever live at the risk of of the deadly deliria that strips people of their sanity as they fall in love. Yet just ninety-five days before her cure, Lena comes across Alex and the strings of the “illness” start to complicate her life. She discovers that the world she knows, of the cured and those who rebel — known as the Invalid — is not as simple as she believes.
The book is beautifully written, heartfelt in its exploration of the nature of love and its influence on our culture, as well as the importance of emotion as the basis for our lives. Lena is a compelling and strong-voiced female protagonist and while she might not wield a bow like Katniss, she strides with purpose through her restrictive society and her powerful first-person voice carries us through the story with ease. Pandemonium, the second novel in the series, was recently released following Delirium’s smash success.
In another post-destroyed America, Eve by Anna Carey explores a landscape emptied of people by a deadly virus. Our heroine Eve grows up in an all-girl’s school, warned of the dangers of the outside world and the barbaric men that might victimize a woman unless she is protected. Eve is being groomed, she’s told, to go out to a school where she’ll learn to be a contributing member of the new society being built out in the desert near Las Vegas. Yet on the cusp of graduation, a fellow classmate exposes the horrible truth behind the school’s grooming and Eve embarks upon a desperate flight to find a better future for herself in the wilderness. Along the way, she finds her fate intertwined with Caleb, a horseback-riding wasteland boy that she must trust to survive. This book tackles a lot of difficult issues for a young, sheltered character like Eve, such as trust, gender politics, and women’s reproductive rights. It also doesn’t flinch at death and violence, something that fans of Hunger Games can appreciate, and invokes some of the same bleak, desperate survival tones that make Katniss’s story so powerful.
Another vulnerable yet powerful female character helms Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me. Set in a militarized state locked in the throes of war, Shatter Me is the first-person account of Juliette, a young woman whose very touch can kill. Locked away for the public’s safety, she is “rescued” by The Reestablishment government to cultivate and must find salvation in a soldier assigned to her with whom she shares a past. Though Shatter Me comes off more as a mix of dystopian fiction and sci-fi, it is Juliette’s stream of consciousness narrative that makes the book so strong and compelling. Juliette is an introspective heroine that brings across the aching deprivation of her situation in a way that rips through the heart and makes you root for her escape from isolation. And of course there’s always the possibility of escape with her soldier/love interest, which provides for some seriously steamy sexual and romantic tension.
Veronica Roth takes us back to butt-kicking females in a dystopian society with her novel Divergent. Beatrice Prior grows up in a Chicago where all citizens are broken down into five factions based upon their personality type. These five factions become your new family after the age of sixteen, dictating your job, your station in society and more than that, how you’re expected to behave. While Beatrice grows up in the selfless Abnegation, she must risk leaving her family forever to follow her heart and enter a strenuous, dangerous adventure of rebirth to find where she belongs in the Factions. Along the way she harbors a dangerous secret about herself that lies at the heart of exposing a major problem with the entire society structure that just might mean the end of her and everyone she cares about. The first in a novel series, Divergent is a fast-paced adventure and Beatrice (later known as Tris) is a brave and stubborn protagonist that could give Katniss a run for her money. She jumps trains, handles weapons, and pushes the envelope in ways that make her an intense character to follow. Oh sure, and there’s romance too, but very much like Hunger Games that seems almost secondary to the power of Tris as a female protagonist. The second novel in the series, Insurgent, is coming out in May.
It’s another girl-versus-society story in Matched by Ally Condie. But this time, our heroine Cassia exists in a world where every person is matched by computer with the person they are going to marry. The Officials in government decide who she will marry, what job she’ll have, and what she’ll do for the rest of her life. But when Cassia disagrees with the choice of her mate she steps outside the bounds of what the Officials have crafted for her and begins to see that behind the scenes, there is room to fight against the control. This series has the most in common with Hunger Games, with a love triangle and a very strong vein of rebellion against societal control. Yet I think one of the strongest things going for this series is its almost 1950’s throwback society and the air of oppression that comes through as well as the sweeping landscape that opens up as Cassia discovers what lies beyond the borders of what she’s been told about her world. The second novel in the series, Crossed, is already out with the story continuing for a third novel in the future.
These five are only some of the dystopian lit out there for young adults and the end doesn’t seem to be in sight. Will any of them match the intensity of Katniss’s journey in The Hunger Games? You’ll have to read to find out.
Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com