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New dystopian worlds to explore

What makes for better summer reading than a page-turning thriller? Four recent titles introduce young adult readers to brand-new dystopian societies and their courageous teen rebels.

The 5th WaveIn Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave, aliens have invaded Earth and killed seven billion humans in waves of systematic attacks. Sixteen-year-old survivor Cassie prepares herself for the fifth wave, the final takeover. Cassie fears she may be all that’s left of humanity until she meets Evan; together they must figure out how to fight back. This series opener intersperses a compelling backstory with plenty of action, and vividly portrays Cassie’s existential crisis in a broken world: how to live, why to live, and what to believe in. (Putnam, 14 years and up)

When We WakeSixteen-year-old Tegan, the protagonist of Karen Healey’s When We Wake, awakens to learn that she’s been cryogenically frozen for a century — and everyone she knows is long dead. Tegan bravely adjusts to her new reality, but when she hears about the mysterious “Ark Project,” she becomes determined to find out what secrets the government is keeping. This gripping dystopic novel creates a chilling future that logically extends the problems facing us today, such as human rights abuses, climate change, and diminishing natural resources. (Little, Brown, 14 years and up)

The Summer PrinceIn the sci-fi thriller The Summer Prince, June challenges the status quo of her society (a Brazilian matriarchy thriving four hundred years after the world was devastated by nuclear war) by creating daring, anonymous art installations. She finds an ally in Enki, the new “summer king” who will be an honored celebrity for a year, until he is sacrificed as part of a ritual to choose the incoming queen. Author Alaya Dawn Johnson’s precise prose evokes an utterly foreign setting, complete with technologies that push at the limits of what it means to be human. (Levine/Scholastic, 14 years and up)

The ProgramWhen teenagers begin committing suicide at epidemic rates, drastic solutions are required. The Program’s high success rate appeals to parents, but is the price — teens’ memories, personalities, and ability to function in the world—too high? Sloane, the protagonist of Suzanne Young’s The Program, hides her depression as long as she can, but she ultimately ends up in The Program, where she fights desperately to emerge whole. The uncomfortable mix of good intentions and their horrific outcomes is chilling, and will likely haunt readers. (Simon Pulse, 14 years and up)

From the June 2013 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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