As many will suspect from a previous post, I whole-heartedly support the recent surge in popularity of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. However, as with all great series, The Hunger Games eventually ends, leaving many readers still craving the feelings of excitement, empathy, and rebellion that Collins’ work instills. For those attracted to these tales of Dystopia, survival and insurrection; here is Part One of my picks for the best novels to chase Hunger Games’ fire.
When Todd’s predecessors came to the new planet, they didn’t know it would happen; that some strange environmental factor would mean the thoughts of all the animals and all the men would be heard by those around them. Now the thoughts broadcast so loudly they are referred to simply as Noise. Todd is the last remaining ‘boy’ in his all-male town and the women’s disappearance is seldom discussed. When Todd discovers a girl his own age in the wilderness, he begins to understand the crux of the conflict. She has no Noise. For the first time in his life Todd can’t tell what someone else is thinking and, somehow, he knows he has to protect her quiet.
Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy, of which The Knife of Never Letting Go is Book One, contains possibly the best tale of friendship since A Bridge to Terabithia. While this would be enough to warrant reading the series, the trilogy also raises many political, moral and personal discussions; from colonization (including treatment of indigenous species and cultures) and the ethics of warfare to how we distinguish our actions from our definition of self, particularly when the two are at odds. When compared with The Hunger Games, Ness’ trilogy is less a call to arms social commentary and more of a philosophical exploration, though similarly garbed in an action-filled Sci-Fi Dystopia package. The series has garnered multiple book award nominations and wins as well as widespread critical acclaim. Personally, I’d call it the best YA series of the last five years.
Nailer works on the light crew. This means his body is still small enough to fit into the tiny passages of wrecked tankers to salvage valuable bits of metal; copper wire, screws, brackets, anything that can be melted down and sold to the big shipping companies. It’s savage, dirty work in near darkness and Nailer rarely has enough to eat or a night of peace from the fists of his drug-soaked father. His only escape is to fantasize about riding on the elegant sailed clipper ships as he watches them skim across the water from a distance. When Nailer and his friend Pima discover the wreckage of one of these ships hidden from beach view; they start stripping down whatever they can carry; determined to buy their way off of light crew. But the ship has one survivor, a swank girl their own age with wide eyes and gold on every finger. If they kill her, her ship will make them rich, free. If they hesitate, won’t their lives only get worse?
In many ways Ship Breaker reads like a softened version of Bacigalupi’s Hugo and Nebula winning Wind-Up Girl. But, when I say it’s softened, I mean that it’s still dark, violent, and a little (ok, sometimes a lot) twisted, but that the graphicness of these elements is dampened. Many of the themes and plot devices in the two novels are comparable; human suffering as the result of ecological waste and climate change, how to measure humanity in and examine exploitation of ‘people’ who have been genetically engineered, when to be loyal and when to be selfish in a survival situation. Bacigalupi is a master at creating believably bleak futures for our current political, economic and environmental situations, as well as characters who are complex enough to be believable; whose ‘evil’ actions are often still empathy-building. Winner of the Michael L. Printz Award (my favourite book award), and a US National Book Award Finalist, Ship Breaker is a must-read for fans of Sci-Fi and/or Young Adult Literature.
The story continues with the newly released The Drowned Cities.
Tally Youngblood hasn’t turned sixteen yet, which means she’s still an Ugly; still wearing the face she was born with, with all its imperfect proportions. When she turns sixteen Tally will undergo the operation to become a Pretty. Physically perfect and beautiful, she’ll finally get to move into the city proper and spend all her time partying with the other Pretties. But when Tally meets Shay, an Ugly who questions the purpose behind the operation, she learns that there are those who reject the frivolity of life as a Pretty and suspect that the operation does more than just change the way you look. Tally is faced with the possibility that becoming a Pretty may not be something to look forward to; it may be something to escape.
Uglies is an exciting, unique Dystopian adventure that has some of the most compelling social commentary I’ve ever encountered in a Young Adult novel. It doesn’t take long for the reader to establish that Uglies is a Dystopia in the true sense of the word; a world that seems ideal but is really characterized by a hyper-controlling government, supressing personal freedom on the deepest possible level. The operation is just the most obvious of the government’s very effective means of controlling Tally’s society. As with many true Dystopian novels, Uglies advocates the value of choice and individuality over conformity. It also questions the premium we place on physical beauty, as well as our impulse to follow societal conventions. As Tally uncovers, the uncontrolled and imperfect can be the most valuable and, unexpectedly, the most beautiful.
Stay tuned for Part Two of my recommendations for combatting Hunger Games withdrawal.