Books Genre Teaching

YA dystopia in the classroom

In the fall I’ll be teaching a first year seminar and an introduction to poetry and fiction course with some workshopping. I’ve been fascinated by the YA dystopia trend — as are the Independent, the New Yorker, and the New York Times, not to mention countless bloggers — and I’m planning to teach my first year seminar on a related topic. The title will probably be something like “Teenagers and Rebellion in Contemporary SF Dystopia,” or, as somebody shortened it recently, “Teenagers in Dystopia.” So far the book list looks like this:

1984, George Orwell
The Giver
, Lois Lowry
Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban
The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Battle Royale, Koushun Takami (possibly the film version rather than the novel, or with only part of the novel, as the book is lengthy)
Feed, M. T. Anderson
How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
Moon, Duncan Jones (film)

The books are roughly paired: TKoNLG and Riddley Walker have a lot of similarities, as do The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, and the Anderson and Rosoff books make an interesting contrast (information overload vs. back-to-the-land fantasy). Never Let Me Go and Moon do some similar things investigating selfhood/individuality. Moon is a bit of a cheat since the main character’s not a teenager, but it’s very much about family and coming of age despite that. (Besides, in that scene in which the two characters mimic each other, they might as well be teenagers.) I still need to pick up Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower, since I grabbed The Parable of the Talents by mistake during my last trip to the library to harvest all their YA dystopian fiction.

I’m not sure if I’ll include 1984 and The Giver or not. I’d like to have that context, but I don’t want to over-assign reading, even though these books are fast reads, since I’ll be adding some secondary material too. And there are so many other primary texts I want to include and won’t have time for, already. I hate not putting His Dark Materials on the list, since it is entirely about the process of becoming an adult, but it’s fantasy rather than SF, and it’s long. As it is we’ll be reading a number of first books in trilogies — and talking about domination of the trilogy model in YA fiction, for sure — but I don’t think it would work to read only The Golden Compass.

Among other assignments, I’m hoping the class might be able to work together to build an online taxonomy of contemporary YA dystopia. (Me and Propp again, I tell you.)

This is all still very much in development, so: thoughts? Suggestions?


  1. This sounds like a great class. I hear you re: His Dark Materials, but maybe you can have a suggested reading list and include it there? I realize it’s not the same, but it would give your students an idea of what else to read if they’re so inclined. Plus I imagine a fair number of them might have read the books already anyway.

  2. Huh, I never thought of His Dark Materials as being dystopian! Interesting. And yeah, agree with Nephele’s suggested reading list — that sounds like a good way for your students to get interesting book recs anyway. 🙂

    Is Russell Hoban the guy who wrote The Mouse and His Child? I didn’t know he’d written other things! Excited!

  3. Nephele & Zen, I think one of the things we’ll do on the first day of class is make a giant reading list together, because I’m sure they’ll all have read other dystopian stuff.

    Zen, yep! I haven’t read any of Hoban’s children’s lit, though I’ve heard it’s charming. I read Riddley Walker in an SF class in college and loved it.

    I think HDM is definitely a unique case dystopia-wise — in fact, I’d say Lyra’s world is in the process of turning into a dystopia, and she does something about it.

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