Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Take 5: Fight the (Abuse of) Power – a look at the role of government in YA fiction

Earlier today, I talked about Blackout by Robison Wells and how it made me think about discussing the role of the government in our lives with teens.  Technically, almost any dystopian will do that by definition.  But here are 5 titles that I think will prompt some compelling discussion about the role and limitations (and abuses) of government.  It is important to study not only history, but a variety of what if scenarios to keep the three branches of the government in check and to make sure that governments continue to work with and serve the people as opposed to oppressing them.  Patriotism isn’t blindly following those who end up in positions of power (history has shown us that they all shouldn’t be trusted), it is working together to make sure that all people are afforded the constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Ashfall by Mike Mullin
Ashfall takes a post-apocalyptic look at what would happen if a super-volcano exploded and covered the U.S. in ash.  The food supply breaks down, transportation breaks down, and the people are fighting for survival.  And in it, there are survivor camps set up and run by the government.  What happens inside these camps will rock your world and make you really think.

Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow
In a future Britain, getting caught doing any type of online copyright infringement has serious consequences.  16-year-old Trent has just been caught.

Little Brother,
Homeland by Cory Doctorow
Marcus and his friends are taken in and questioned by Homeland Security following a terrorist attack.  A couple of other post-terrorist attack explorations include How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (which is being made into a movie) and Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Matched by Ally Condie
In both of these series, the government takes control of society “for it’s own good”.  It includes limiting access to to various publications, controlling the curriculum and determining who you will marry (and when), or in the case of Delirium actually requiring teens to alter their capacity for love and emotions.

The Blood of Eden series by Julie Kagawa
In this future world, vampires have taken over.  So it isn’t the government per se, but they have established themselves as the ruling body.  You must either be in service to the vampires or you are forced to live outside their protection where food is scarce and survival is slim.  This is hands down one of my favorite discussions of the importance of reading, libraries and access to information.  It is a great companion read to Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury when discussing this topic.

Now I know you all have some thoughts on the matter, so do share your favorite titles in the comments and mention how they make us all think about the role that the government plays in our lives.


  1. One of the great strengths for Hunger Games for me is that inside look into the politics and dictatorship of the President and the Capital. I haven't read Mockingjay yet, which I know is where most of the drama is, but I like getting seeing President Snow mindf*** with Katniss and co.

    I think Matched was great at showing middle management corruption/ how the system worked, but you never get a top dog or higher up to examine which I think is a shame. They have “The Society” but you only ever see the enforcers.

    I didn't really take much notice of government stuff until Year 11 at school when we did Bladerunner and Brave New World and then Animal Farm as an elective novel. We had a really passionate teacher who was trying to take the classes beyond the texts and put it into context for us about why we, as the soon to be voting age citizens, needed to be informed.

  2. As someone who is interested in politics, I loooove this list 🙂 🙂 Absolutely agree with your line about patriotism!

    With the rise of dystopian in recent years, I think it speaks to the larger political issues and feelings on instability with the economy and such. While it is GREAT to be critical of governments, what does it also say that a lot of the time the governments have fallen apart and aren't helping their citizens, or worse, actively harming them? Do you think this could cause youth to lose faith in their governments if a lot of what they read in YA that deals with the future has government in shambles? It could go either way I guess, towards apathy, or inspire action.

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