Being a school librarian, I have found that escapism is something that students crave on a daily basis. There are a few genres that stand out when it comes to middle grade readers, genres that are always flying off the shelves here in the library: mystery, horror, and dystopia. And rightly so! What better way than to use books for this kind of escapism? We’ve written before on 40 great dystopian novels for adults, but finding dystopian books for middle school readers can be tricky because some of the novels descend into extremely dark territory that some readers can handle, but might be too much for others.
Thank god for librarians, because we’re the experts in choosing books for that age group, and there are loads of resources out there for anyone looking for additional titles. It can be a challenge to pull together the right books, but when you do, and you hook a student on a great series, it can be an amazing experience for everyone. Diving into fictional worlds that deal with bleak futures can be a great way to escape our own troubles or makes us feel a little better about the future in general.
The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum
Maggie lives in a society where the eldest children are given preferential treatment over any others. When her older brother is told it’s time to fight in “The War,” he’s sent to a training camp to prepare. Meanwhile, Maggie does something unthinkable: she speaks to an outsider, someone who lives beyond the fence that surrounds their community. As she begins to unravel the thread that keeps her community together, Maggie and her siblings realise that not everything is as it seems and what the true horror of their lives might actually be.
The Territory by Sarah Govett
In a world where the earth has been ravaged by pollution and disease, students must take special exams in order to earn resources for their families. Passing means they can stay on specially selected land, failure means they must live on the Wasteland, where death is almost certain. Rich children have special microchips that give them an advantage on their exams, whereas everyone else must pass using their own brains. This is the first in a trilogy that is a stark warning and a gripping story all wrapped into one.
The Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen
Ade lives on the 17th floor of a tower block with his mother. When the Bluchers arrive, a plague of horrible and dangerous sentient plant, the city begins to evacuate. His mother, however, refuses to leave and Ade is forced to watch the city he lives in crumble and be taken over by the Bluchers. As the plants creep closer, and as his mother gets more and more ill, Ade must act fast if he and his mother are going to survive. A beautiful story about friendship, loyalty and survival, fans of The Day of the Triffids will love this, as will anyone looking for a gripping story.
The Girl of Ink & Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Isabella’s father is a famous map-maker, a cartographer who works for a cruel Governor on the island of Joya. Isabella researches the island’s myths and fables and longs to explore beyond the island’s borders. However, the Governor forbids any travel. This all changes when Isabella’s best friend Lupe disappears. Presumably, she ran away, but why? Armed with her father’s maps, Isabella sets out to find her friend, discovering danger and wonder along the way.
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
This one is aimed at teens, but it’s suitable for the upper end of middle grade. The world has been destroyed by global warming. Not only that, most of the world has lost its ability to dream with disastrous mental health consequences. People believe that North America’s Indigenous population are still able to dream because of magic in their bone marrow. The unthinkable happens: they are hunted for their marrow. Some, however, decide not to run and instead fight back against the scourge of people trying to steal their marrow. It’s a harrowing, disturbing dystopian story that will not leave your brain for a very, very long time.
It’s The End of the World and I’m in My Bathing Suit by Justin A. Reynolds
It’s not easy pulling off a funny dystopian novel, but this one does it well! Eddie is missing the big beach party because he has to do his chores, namely laundry, which of course he hates with a passion. When the power goes out, he tries to investigate the problem only to find that entire neighbourhood appears to be dark. Not only that, there’s no one around. Absolutely no one. Then, the streetlights mysteriously come back on, and Eddie is thrust into an adventure that will test his brains, his luck and his skills!
Six Days by Philip Webb
This extraordinary middle grade dystopian novel takes place in post apocalyptic London. People are desperately searching for a mysterious item simply known as “The Artefact,” a device that will seemingly save humankind. Cass and Wilbur are scavengers, working for the dangerous Vlad army. Their job is to take the city apart and fight back against anyone who will stop them. Things get stranger when visitors from another time and place visit London, and Cass and Wilbur are pulled into a battle that will determine the fate of the world. This is a very bleak but thrilling dystopian story!
Gamerunner by B.R. Collins
Here’s another post-apocalyptic England, except this time it’s called “Ingland.” Nuclear war has destroyed the earth, and acid rain sears everything in its wake. The only relief is something called The Maze, a virtual reality game created by Daed, a hacker savant who has created an immersive world that lets the population escape for a short time. Rick, who also happens to be Daed’s son, checks The Maze for problems, but what Rick discovers is layer upon layer of corruption within the system. A dark, cruel dystopian world has been created here by Collins — fans of The Running Man and The Maze Runner will want to sink their teeth into this!
I hope this list was useful. Reading about dark and dangerous futures can oddly be a relief from our own issues, and these books are a great place to start!