Friday, December 21, 2012

This is the Way the World Ends: Top Ten Post-Apocalyptic Young Adult Novels

In honor of the end of the Mayan calendar, I'd like to share my favorite post-apocalyptic books for teens. I'm using the term "post-apocalyptic" loosely, here. Some of these books are set in a distant future, when society has rebuilt itself (in an appropriately dystopic manner), and others focus on the immediate aftermath of a catastrophic event. But they all share the same idea: that nothing is the same as it used to be.

1. Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer. When a meteor hits the moon and knocks it out of its standard orbit, the environmental effects are disastrous. Massive tidal waves wipe out all coastal cities, long-dormant volcanoes erupt and choke the sky with ash so that the sun can no longer warm the earth. If you want to be freaked out by the idea of being able to do absolutely nothing in the face of a natural disaster, go ahead and give this book a look-see.

2. Ashes, by Ilsa Bick. Part lost-in-the-woods survival story, part zombie apocalypse, part dystopia, Ashes is the kind of book you'll want to read with the lights on.

3. Blood Red Road, by Moira Young. Whether another world or a ravaged Earth, the setting for Blood Red Road is bleak and dusty. Think the salt flats in Utah, or a dessicated Salton Sea. The story, though brutal at times (particularly when the main character is forced into cage fighting), is ultimately uplifting.

4. Legend, by Marie Lu. I attended an author talk in which Marie Lu admitted that part of the inspiration for writing this book was this: she saw a map of the projected changes to North America with drastic global warming, and Southern California was all but wiped from the landscape. An Angeleno, Lu mused "What if my hometown was completely ravaged?" Legend features a Los Angeles like you've never imagined.

5. Empty, by Suzanne Weyn. What if we really do run out of fossil fuels? Empty imagines a not-so-far future in which that happens. Neighborhoods go dark, nobody can drive, and global warming sends massive storms across the continental U.S. This book is realistic enough to make you want to go out and buy an electric car to help assuage the need for fossil fuels and a crap-ton of matches and canned goods for when we run out of them anyway.

6. Gone, by Michael Grant. Not quite so much post-apocalyptic as teenager's fantasy. When all the adults suddenly poof! disappear, children and teenagers must form a new society on their own.

7. Partials, by Dan Wells. A virus has wiped out everyone in the world except for a small community of survivors in what used to be Long Island. The science-fiction element of a virus that kills newborn babies -- so that no life may ever thrive again -- is compelling, but what really stands out in this novel is a Manhattan that has been overtaken by nature in the wake of human disaster.

8. Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. Overpopulation has forced people into trailer parks that climb into the sky, and everyone now functions within a giant global internet that has usurped the need for any human interaction. While the outside world is disturbing, the universe inside the internet is amazing. Ernest Cline should win a prize for world-building. Read this book. You will be in awe. And if you're a child of the 70s or 80s, you'll enjoy the dozens of references to the pop culture of your childhood.

9. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. Do I really need to say anything about this one? It's chilling and thrilling, and if you haven't read it, what's it like under that rock?

10. Pure, by Julianna Baggott. This one earns the prize of best-book-I've-read-all-year. In a frightening future where nuclear detonations have changed the face of the planet and the faces of the people, main characters Pressia and Partridge must figure out what brought them together and what the real significance of the Dome is. The Dome -- a sheltered area around the erstwhile Washington D.C. -- is home to the "Pures," people who were untouched by the detonations. Those not so lucky to make it to the dome (basically everyone who wasn't rich or otherwise already privileged) fused to whatever was nearest at the time of the explosions, resulting in a new society of mutated humans. With themes of gender difference, familial obligation, disability, political unrest, science fiction, abjection, and class difference running through this book, it is ripe for analysis and discussion.

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