Dystopian America: Common Reads Selections from Orwell to Atwood

By Sara Clemens | August 8 2018 | College & University ReadsAll-School ReadsCommunity Reads

Dystopian fiction is an already-evergreen literary genre that nonetheless seems to be gaining popularity all the time.

New York Times article on the subject recently observed:

Even outside the United States, interest in 1984 has grown. So far this year, sales have risen by 20 percent in Britain and Australia compared to the same period a year ago, according to Jess Harrison, a London-based editor at Penguin Books. The novel is usually a best-seller, she said, and it sold 100,000 copies last year in English-speaking countries outside the United States and Canada. “But we’ve definitely seen an uplift” in sales, she added.

Dystopian novels are “chiming with people,” Ms. Harrison said, adding that The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, an alternative history in which the Nazis defeated America to win World War II, is also selling well.

Below you’ll find a list of classic and contemporary dystopian fiction with offerings for all-ages, ideal for use in both first-year and community reads.

Click here for even more dystopian fiction titles.

1984
978-0-452-28423-4
A startling and haunting vision of the world, 1984 is so powerful that it is completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the influence of this novel, its hold on the imaginations of multiple generations of readers, or the resiliency of its admonitions—a legacy that seems only to grow with the passage of time.
Paperback

The Handmaid's Tale
A Novel
978-0-385-49081-8
The seminal work of speculative fiction from the Booker Prize-winning author. Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and literary tour de force.
Paperback

The Road
978-0-307-38789-9
The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, "each the other’s world entire," are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.
Paperback

Americana
978-0-14-011948-0
At twenty-eight, David Bell is the American Dream come true. He has fought his way to the top, surviving office purges and scandals to become a top television executive. David’s world is made up of the images that flicker across America’s screens, the fantasies that enthrall America’s imagination. And the the dream–and the dream-making–become a nightmare. At the height of his success, David sets out to rediscover reality. Camera in hand, he journeys across the country in a mad and moving attempt to capture, to impose a pattern on his own, and America’s past, present, and future.
Paperback

American War
A Novel
978-1-101-97313-4
An audacious and powerful debut novel: a second American Civil War, a devastating plague, and one family caught deep in the middle—a story that asks what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself.
Paperback

The Lorax
978-0-394-82337-9
Long before “going green” was mainstream, Dr. Seuss’s Lorax spoke for the trees and warned of the dangers of disrespecting the environment. In this cautionary rhyming tale (printed on recycled paper) we learn of the Once-ler, who came across a valley of Truffula Trees and Brown Bar-ba-loots, and how his harvesting of the tufted trees changed the landscape forever.
Hardcover
Age 5-9 years
Grades K-4

The Plot Against America
978-1-4000-7949-0
In an extraordinary feat of narrative invention, Philip Roth imagines an alternate history where Franklin D. Roosevelt loses the 1940 presidential election to heroic aviator and rabid isolationist Charles A. Lindbergh. Shortly thereafter, Lindbergh negotiates a cordial “understanding” with Adolf Hitler, while the new government embarks on a program of folksy anti-Semitism. For one boy growing up in Newark, Lindbergh’s election is the first in a series of ruptures that threaten to destroy his small, safe corner of America—and with it, his mother, his father, and his older brother.
Paperback

It Can't Happen Here
978-0-451-46564-1
It Can't Happen Here is a cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy, it is an alarming, eerily timeless look at how fascism could take hold in America. Written during the Great Depression, when the country was largely oblivious to Hitler’s aggression, it juxtaposes sharp political satire with the chillingly realistic rise of a president who becomes a dictator to save the nation from welfare cheats, crime, and a liberal press.
Mass Market Paperback

Ready Player One
A Novel
978-0-307-88744-3
At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, Ready Player One is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.
Paperback