Tuesday, March 20, 2012


The first release in a 4-film series opens March 23.
The genre to read right now goes by a name that you don't expect to roll off the tongue of a teen.

But ask die hard readers of The Hunger Games, Legend, Maze Runner, Across the Universe, Maximum Ride, Divergent, what dystopian fiction is and you might be surprised.

My guess is they'll recognize the name in an instant and in an animated voice tell you that it's exciting stuff about people being treated really badly.

Stories about misery? Well yes, but misery is only the catalyst for what happens in these books. What they're really about is heroism: Teens rebelling against cruel rulers in a futuristic world that's been stripped of all of its greenery and goodwill.

Here's how the dystopian tale generally goes:

A Craving for Dystopia

It might seem like nothing could match The Hunger Games, but there are already lots of great choices out there.

In fact, the hardest part may not be finding great dystopian series, but trying to decide which one to begin first.

Here's just a sample:

The Legend series by Marie Lu is set on the flooded coast of former Los Angeles and is told from the perspective of two 15-year-old characters on either side of a civil war. Los Angeles is now the Republic, a nation at war with its neighbors and riddled with a plague. Born of the slums, a boy named Day steals to keep his family alive and rebels against the state police, and June, a military prodigy from an elite family, hunts him down. The two seem to be from different worlds until June's brother is murdered and they discover the sinister truth behind the plague that's killing the nations' poor people. The second book, Patriot, comes out this fall. Penguin, $17.99, ages 12 and up, 336 pages.

The Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness is about 13-year-old Todd, the only boy in a town of men where everyone's thoughts can be heard. The town is run by a corrupt mayor who wants to vest control of the planet and wipe out its indigenous alien race and Todd, an orphan, is determined to stop him with the help of Viola Eade, a girl who crash lands on his planet. The first book The Knife of Never Letting Go came out in 2008, followed by The Ask and The Answer in 2009 and Monsters of Men in 2010. Candlewick, $18.99 per hardback, $ 9.99 per softcover, ages 14 and up, 496-608 pages. Chaos Walking: The Complete Trilogy is now available as an ebook for $29.97.

The Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner is a New York Times best-seller about a group of boys dropped into a maze and forced to work together to survive the challenges of their isolated world, while recalling nothing from their past lives. The first three books are out, The Maze Runner (2010), The Scorch Trials (2011) and The Death Cure, and the prequel novel, The Kill Order, will debut this August. Random House, $16.99 per hardback, $9.99 per paperback (the first two books available), ages 12 and up, 336-400 pages.

The Roar by debut novelist Emma Clayton and her follow-up, The Whisper, is about 12-year-old mutant twins pulled from the squalor of a futuristic London to wage a war for a cadaver-like tyrant. All their lives Ellie and Mika have lived in the moldy "Shadows," the bottom of a tiered city scape that's encircled by a 50-foot-tall wall. They've been told an animal plague has forced society behind the wall and all that's left of the natural world is the yellow dust from chemical warfare. But when the tyrant Mal Gorman kidnaps Ellie, then coops Mika through a video game contest to be his soldiers, they discover the world outside the wall is not barren or uninhabitable. The plague is a ruse to deal with overpopulation and save the natural world from global warming for a select few. Scholastic, $17.99 per hardback, ages 10 and up, 320-496 pages.

The Across the Universe series by Beth Revis is about 17-year-old Amy who joins her parents in frozen slumber on a spaceship Godspeed on their way to a new planet. They expect to awaken three hundred years in the future, but Amy is stirred fifty years too soon, when one of these thousands of inhabitants on the spaceship tries to kill her. Amy now must find a way to unlock the spaceship's hidden secrets before someone kills her parents. Along the way, she falls in love with Elder, who is trying to vest control of the ship, and the two must try to get off the ship before chaos consumes them. Across the Universe came out in 2011, and the second book, A Million Suns, debuted in January. Razorbill, $17.99 per hardback, $9.99 per paperback (the first book is available), ages 12 and up, 386-416 pages.

The Unwind trilogy by Neal Shusterman is about three teens on the run from a government that uses "unwinding" or organ harvesting to deal with teens who are troublemakers or wards of the state. Under America's Bill of Life (a compromise resolving a civil war between pro-life and pro-choice factions), officials are allowed to harvest the organs of teens who are unwanted. Their organs are then transplanted into other members of society -- those deemed worthwhile -- to improve their quality of life. Unwind came out in 2007 and the second book Unwholly is due out in August. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 per hardback, $9.99 per paperback (the first book is available), ages 14 and up, 352 pages.

The Starters series by Lissa Price is a futuristic thriller about 16-year-old Callie, who lost her parents when a genocide spore wiped out everyone except those who were vaccinated first, the very young and the very old. With no grandparents to claim them, she and her little brother are forced to live on dangerous streets until hope comes through a corporation that hires teens to rent their bodies to seniors, known as Enders, who get to be young again. Lured by the offer of a better life for her and her brother, Callie signs on with the corporation, only now her renter wants to use her body to commit murder. The second book is due out in December. Three ebook original shorts are also being released as tie-ins, the first, now out, is Portrait of a Starter. (Random House, 352 pages, $17.99)