These days, reading apocalyptic fiction can be either a bit too real or a comfort in the “well, it could be worse” sense. We’re living through a moment that feels pre-apocalyptic, so some are avoiding the genre altogether, but many readers are diving in. I’ve seen countless viral tweets talking about how they didn’t believe people would act the way society is described in apocalyptic fiction, but now think maybe the fiction didn’t go quite far enough.
Young adult post-apocalyptic fiction is especially interesting to me because most of the time the teen characters don’t have the opportunity to remember — or barely remember — what it was like “before.” This is just what their world is, so they’re initially accepting of it while the reader is horrified, which makes for a tense juxtaposition. Plus, they are just beginning to come into their own power, so we get to see the reach and limits of that power and how they decide to use it.
The addition of a queer element often offers another level to explore. In the face of annihilation, has society moved backward or forwards in their tolerance or acceptance? When the world is crumbling/has crumbled around bigots, do they lean in to their bigotry or do they realize they have their own problems to think about?
Here are my nine favorite (or most-anticipated, in one case) queer YA post-apocalyptic books. Some of them take place in the aftermath of our actual world, while some take place in the aftermath of another or an alternate world.
The Fever King by Victoria Lee
This book meshes together magic and technology when Noam wakes up the sole survivor of a viral magic with the ability to control technology. Noam sees his newly-found power as a way to help refugees running from magical outbreaks and accepts the minister of defense’s invitation to teach him more about his magic, planning to turn on them when he gets the chance. But then he meets the minister’s son and Noam soon finds himself caught between his purpose and his heart.
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
Pitched as Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale, this one is a don’t-miss. In Huaxia, teen boys and girls team up to pilot giant robots to battle the aliens threatening their society, but the girls often die. Zeitan volunteers as a pilot so she can seek vengeance on the ace pilot responsible for her sister’s death. She’s labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared female pilot with incredible mental strength. She’s paired up with murderer Li Shimin in an attempt to tame her power, but Zeitan won’t be stopped until she figures out how to stop more girls from being sacrificed.
The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow
After an invasion, Ellie lives in an alien-occupied apartment building and runs an illegal library. Lab-grown alien M0Rr1S discovers the illegal library, but finds himself drawn to human music and art and soon to the human who hides it. The two set off on a music-filled road trip across the decimated landscape to find the one thing that might save Ellie and humanity from the alien establishment.
Proxy by Alex London
Knox is at such a high society echelon that he doesn’t even have to take his own punishments; he has his Proxy Syd for that. When Knox is responsible for a fatal car crash, Syd is sentenced to death for Knox’s crimes. Syd’s life may not be his own, but neither is Knox’s. So they flee to save each other, setting off a dangerous cross-country chase and uncovering big secrets along the way.
Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta
Godolia no longer worships deities; it builds them. They rule with Windups, their giant mechanized weapons. Eris is a young rebel who specializes in taking down Windups from the inside, but her mission goes sideways and she’s taken prisoner. She meets Sona, a Windup pilot who’s not the mortal enemy Iris expected. They work together to stop the tyrannical Godolia and find something else they never expected along the way.
Hell Followed with Us by Andrew Joseph White
This one doesn’t come out until June, but I’m looking forward to it immensely. A 16-year-old trans boy is on the run from the fundamentalist cult that caused Armageddon. The sect infected Benji with a bioweapon, which is mutating him into a monster more dangerous than all the others. He finds shelter with a group of queer teens who harbor their own secrets.
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
In the lush surviving metropolis of Palmares Tres, a Summer King is elected to live it up for a year, choose the new Queen, and die. June is an artist and Enki, the new Summer King, wants to make incredible art with her that fuels the growing rebellion against their strict government.
Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro
In a world burned by the god Solís, Xochitl has the ability to deliver troubled townspeople’s stories to the desert, absolving them of their guilt. After she delivers the stories, she doesn’t remember them, but is left exhausted. When she keeps a story, she takes a magical, dangerous journey across the desert with the daughter of her town’s cruel conqueror.
The Quiet at the End of the World by Lauren James
After a fertility crisis, Lowrie and Shen are the youngest humans, being cared for by their surviving community while their parents search for a cure to save humanity. But their community is threatened by a new disease which might mean humanity ends even earlier than they thought.
Whether it’s aliens, disease, magic, a great fire, or financial collapse, I love to read about the way our world might end and the people who are left after the end. If you’re looking for more recommendations, check out 8 of the Best YA Books Set in Post-Apocalyptic Cities and take the quiz Which Post-Apocalyptic YA Book Should Be Your Next Read?