I’m pretty sure I read every YA dystopian book that existed in the early 2000s. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I read loads of them. There was something about the love triangles, the fight-the-system storylines, the powerful and mostly female main characters that had me hooked. Considering the popularity of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Uglies, just to name a few, I wasn’t alone! Movies, books, and merch flooded my classrooms, many of us sneaking pages underneath our desks during math class.
Looking back, the genre was very much lacking representation of anything except straight white people. All of the main characters were white teenagers, and all of the love triangles had one teenage girl and two male love interests she had to choose from, usually one with dark hair and the other blonde, for a little bit of variety. You were a Peeta or a Gale fan, right?
Luckily, the genre is still very much alive and has expanded in its scope to put other diverse characters at the helm. It’s not only straight white people that will end up surviving the apocalypse, you know?
Here are eight queer dystopian books for a new take on a nostalgic genre!
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
The last of humankind is on board the HSS Matilda en route to the Promised Land. In the lower decks is Aster, a Black sharecropper considered lesser than those above. After the ship’s sovereign dies, an autopsy links his death to Aster’s mother’s suicide, revealing secrets to a way off the ship and the rumblings of an uprising in its wake. This is a sci-fi dystopia full of characters who are queer and autistic and completely themselves.
Black Wave by Michelle Tea
After Michelle moves to Los Angeles for a new life away from her San Francisco neighborhood, an official announcement shocks the world: they have exactly one year until it ends. Soon after, people start to dream of the life they would have had if the apocalypse didn’t happen. Michelle finds solace in an abandoned bookstore where she starts to write a novel about the end of the world. Hallucination, desperation, and humanity plague these pages, making it one of the most fascinating queer dystopian books to read right now.
Manhunt by Gretchen Felker Martin
In a world where anyone with a certain amount of testosterone goes feral, Beth and Fran hunt them down and harvest their organs while avoiding the violent factions of TERFs out to kill them. They team up with Robbie, a loner on the outskirts, and find themselves in a battle for their very existence. This gory, violent, and sharp novel is as horrifying as it is enrapturing.
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
In an effort to escape the marriage her father arranged for her, Esther hides away in the wagon of the Librarian. They’re supposedly “upright women,” and she longs for a way to get rid of her feelings for other women. What she finds, though, is a group of fight-the-system queer women who pay no mind to rules. This reinvention of the Western dystopia is full of gunfire and grit alike.
The Power by Naomi Alderman
When girls gain the power to kill with a single touch, the world rearranges itself overnight. Through the perspectives of the daughter of a gangster, a Nigerian journalist, a Mayor, and a runaway, we see the impacts of this change. It’s women, now, upheld as figures of strength, and men are the ones afraid to walk home alone at night. If you’re in the mood for interesting worldbuilding and an exploration of gender dynamics, this is an excellent choice.
Adaptation by Malinda Lo
In this YA example of queer dystopian books, when flocks of birds go haywire, sending airplanes crashing to the ground, the United States grounds all planes. Reese, trapped in Arizona, has to road trip to get home. On the way, one of the feral birds flies into their car, flipping it. They wake up in a military hospital with no answers as to what happened. Getting home is even stranger, with curfews and hazmat teams all around. Itching for answers, Reese runs into a girl name Amber, and they both stumble into something far more sinister than they’d imagined.
Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai
Set in an alternative version of China and the Pacific Northwest, Salt Fish Girl follows the story of Nu Wa, an ageless shapeshifter, and Miranda, a girl living inside a walled city. She’s haunted by memories of her mother. Nu Wa wonders if Miranda has the Dreaming Disease in which past and present muddy together. This sci-fi dystopian exploration of memory, gender, and love is chock full of Chinese mythology and lore.
Wilder Girls by Rory Power
The school fence keeps them safe from the Tox. At least, it has in the 18 months since the horrible plague hit. Those who leave the perimeter of the school are sure as dead; those who survive are left with two hearts or another spine. Hetty and Byatt have managed to survive through it all. But, when Byatt goes missing, Hetty is determined to find her no matter what the cost. This gruesome, gritty boarding school novel is horror-full and queer-full, too!
Looking for more queer dystopian books? You might also like 9 of the Best Queer Post-Apocalyptic YA Books.