What Teen Dystopian Novels Can Tell Us About The Future

“Amid city streetsm a father holds up a sign reading "Make America Think Again" as his son holds his hand” by Jose Moreno on Unsplash

Seven years ago, when I started writing my first dystopian book, the idea of overpopulation seemed so far-fetched that it seemed like the equivalent to writing a fantasy. My book was about overpopulation and a corrupt government bureau that decided who lived and who died. Initially, my first thought was that it’d never happen — hence why I thought it’d be fun to write about.

I was wrong.

If you’d like to understand how we got to the point of trade wars, allegations of rigged elections, environment defenders being treated like criminals, and mass incarcerations, the books that our young adults are reading might provide some insight.

Dystopian novels have been popular for almost a century, and the genre dates as early as 1895 with the publication of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine. They tend to be political in nature and feature extreme governments controlling its citizens. In the past, they served as warnings to its readers. Today, they become dangerously close to imitating real life.

These five books blur the lines of truth and fiction.

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
    Issues addressed: inequality, corruption, and survival
    The Hunger Games is world famous, spawning four movies and a global franchise. Readers are already familiar with the world of Panem and the thirteen districts. Some are even horrified by the massive inequality in the Capital in comparison to the way the residents of the thirteen districts live. However, this is an all-too-familiar way of life in countries that manufacture our goods. While India and China manufacture many of our goods, many of its residents still live in crippling poverty. In India, a quarter of its residents live on $1.25/day. In comparison, 95% of Americans own a cell phone and eat out 4–5 times a week (each meal costing $15–$20). While many of us sympathize with the plight of Katniss and the residents of District 12, we’re a lot more closer to the Capitol than we realize.
    It should be noted that the rise of manufacturing is causing many of these countries standards of living to get better; China’s poverty rate decreased from 88% in 1981 to 6.5% in 2012.
  2. The Divinity Bureau by Tessa Clare
    Issues addressed: overpopulation, pollution, and corruption.
    The Divinity Bureau starts with a plight that many environmentalists are already aware of: human overpopulation. The novel begins by introducing Roman Irvine, who works for a government bureau that responds to overpopulation by deciding who lives and who dies. He realizes that not all is what it seems when he falls in love with a girl that is sentenced to die. Human overpopulation is one of the most pressing of concerns for environmental activists, as it is the driving factor behind global warming, pollution, and the over-consumption of natural resources. At the moment, there are over 7 billion people on Earth, and estimates say that we will reach 9.6 billion by 2050 and 11 billion by 2100.
  3. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
    Issues addressed: discrimination, exploitation, and disease
    This Cinderella-retelling is about a cyborg named Cinder that lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters. While Cinder is a gifted mechanic, her stepmother only keeps her around for a paycheck (which Cinder receives none of), and it’s clear that cyborgs are seen as second-class citizens. This is, unfortunately, a familiar reality for many citizens — from immigrants, people of color, people from the LGBT community, and more. Many of these people are also in danger of being exploited. For instance, Eudocia “Lola” Pulido is a Filipino immigrant that worked for 56 years without pay. Like Cinder, Miss Pulido was vulnerable to exploitation, as her visa was tied to an employer. Unfortunately, stories like Pulido’s are all too common in the United States, and it’s only expected to grow under the current administration.
  4. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
    Issues addressed: Medicine, conformity, and mental illness
    In Delirium, love — otherwise known as Amor Deliria Nervosa — is treated as a disorder. It’s the source of great and terrible wars, works of epic literature, and the loss of ability to make rational decisions. In this book, everyone goes through a procedure to stop them from loving. At the beginning of the book, we’re introduced to Lena, who is anxiously awaiting the arrival of her procedure. She’s experienced a tremendous amount of loss in her life, and she desires the procedure to bring back peace to her life. Interestingly enough, love isn’t the only “disease” that society once desired to be cured. Hysteria was also a mental illness that was attributed to women with symptoms that included nervousness, hallucinations, emotional outbursts, and various urges of the sexual variety. Some even say that love is dead, which can be attributed to the modern-day hookup generation.
  5. The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch
    Issues addressed: police state, technology advances, and rebellion.
    The Book of Joan is a sci-fi book that is loosely inspired by the real life Joan of Arc. It takes places in the year 2049 in a space station called CIEL. The earth below is largely uninhabitable thanks to a technological boom that has triggered global violence. Despite the advances in technology, humankind has retreated back to its pre-modern levels of brutality. Many of the technology shifts in The Book of Joan are already predicted for the next hundred years.

“A glowing red “change” neon on a wall” by Ross Findon on Unsplash

What can these books tell us about the future? Many of these trends are already happening. Inequality is on the rise, the environment is in crisis, and recent years have shown us the biggest political shakeup in a generation. We’re already seeing influxes in technology, including the possibility of sending humans to Mars.

These dystopian novels not only predict the future, but they also caution us on what happens when governments, military units, and technology goes awry. They offer a glimpse of what could happen and how we can prevent it from hurting us in the future.

The future is happening now, and as Peter Drucker once said: “The best way to predict the future is to to create it.”

Looking to escape the real world? All the books listed in this article are available on Amazon. Check them out below.