8 dystopian books to help you learn English
If you’ve ever been morbidly fascinated with what the future might look like if pressing societal threats are left unaddressed, then dystopian literature might be for you. What better way to plunge into a whole new world while improving your English reading skills?
This genre presents a vision of the future that is bleak — it does, however, usually feature the kind of unlikely heroes that capture our hearts. They overthrow corrupt governments, liberate oppressed societies and strive to make the world a better place along the way. Set against a harrowing backdrop, these tales are full of action, captivating main characters and exciting twists.
Here are 8 gripping young adult dystopian novels to help you learn English.
1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Set in the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem, 16-year old Katniss Everdeen is forced to enter the 74th Hunger Games in order to spare her younger sister from this gruesome annual competition. Every year, two children from each of the 12 districts of Panem must compete in a televised spectacle that was established to maintain control and instill fear across the nation. This book follows Katniss’ journey as she fights for survival and questions the evil capital government and its motives.
If you like the trilogy of books, be sure to check out the iconic, action-packed movies starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth.
2. Divergent by Veronica Roth
In this 3-book series, society is divided into Factions in order to maintain control and prevent rebellion by those in favor of change. The Faction you join is decided based on a test, but main character Tris’ results are inconclusive and she is classed as “Divergent”. The Divergent are feared by those in control. After choosing her fate, Tris must learn how to navigate her new home. On her journey, she uncovers dark secrets of sabotage and rebellion that seek to destroy society as she knows it.
This story, full of action, angst and even romance, will leave you reaching straight for the next book. There is also a movie adaptation, but sadly they never made the final film (don’t say we didn't warn you!).
3. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancy
In this gripping sci-fi dystopian novel, aliens, known as the “Others”, invade earth and seek to destroy it in five violent waves. The first four are devastating: deafening darkness, vicious flooding, a deadly virus and the aliens disguising themselves as humans. As one of Earth’s few survivors, Cassie will do anything to outrun the “Others” and save her brother. But with the fifth wave looming, Cassie must decide who to trust in order to get what she wants and ride out the last wave.
This trilogy will have you questioning how you would survive in this frightening apocalypse. If the three books leave you wanting even more, you can check out the 2016 movie adaptation.
4. Maze Runner by James Dashner
When Thomas wakes up remembering only his name, he knows he’s in trouble. He finds himself alongside other boys whose only memory is their name. They’re surrounded by large, menacing walls with a door leading to a maze. The door opens every day and shuts again at night. The only way the boys can escape is through the maze, but no one has ever entered it and survived. Everything changes when a girl enters their area with a message: Remember. Survive. Run.
Of course, there’s a movie trilogy you can watch that brings the books to life in a new, dark and eerie way.
5. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
This book uncovers an unnerving dystopian world where beauty is mandatory and enforced by the state. To become pretty you must undergo surgery at the age of 16. The story's protagonist, Tally, could not have been more excited about the day she finally became a “Pretty”. Following a chance encounter with a group of rebels, Tally begins to question everything she thought she knew about her life. She rebels against the state and its imposed conformity, wondering along the way whether remaining an “Ugly” is really worth it.
The Uglies books, set 300 years in the future, explore themes of self-discovery, societal norms and individuality. This series will leave you questioning what it really means to be beautiful.
6. The Host by Stephanie Meyer
The Host is set in a post-apocalyptic world, where an alien race known as the “Souls” have invaded earth. The “Souls” take over the human consciousness and erase all of their memories, deeming humans too destructive and violent. A “Soul” known as Wanderer takes over teenager Melanie’s body and finds that she is unable to erase her consciousness. Wanderer is torn between her mission and Melanie’s human emotions and memories. The story follows Wanderer’s quest for answers about the immense love she feels in her human host's body, and her doubts about her own species’ presence on Earth.
This book gets you thinking about the meaning of humanity and identity. When you’re finished, be sure to give the 2013 movie starring Saoirse Ronan a watch.
7. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
This post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, first published in 1968, follows bounty hunter Rick Deckard on his mission to terminate six androids masquerading as humans. With life on Earth ravaged by nuclear war, animals are mostly endangered or extinct. In this world, animals are a symbol of status and empathy — the latter being something androids aren’t capable of. With his goal of acquiring a real animal in exchange for his mission, Rick strives to destroy the android population.
This complex story may be more suited to advanced English readers, but it’s a great piece to work your way up to. If you’re looking for the movie adaptation, check out Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford.
8. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale tells the haunting story of a society where women’s rights have been stripped away and strict gender roles enforced. Welcome to Gilead, a theocratic totalitarian regime where women’s only purpose is to reproduce for the ruling class. The story follows Offred, a handmaid who is forced to carry a child for The Commander, Fred, and his wife Serena. Read how Offred recounts her chilling story and how she escaped the hands of totalitarian power. The book explores themes of female agency, oppression, resilience, extremism and gender politics. It’s a real eye-opener!
This is another one that’s best suited to more advanced English readers. When you’re finished reading, be sure to watch the incredible TV series starring Elizabeth Moss.
These 8 thought-provoking dystopian novels not only spark conversations about our future but are also a great way to immerse yourself in the English language. Happy reading!