When Sustainability Is Just a Dream: Harrowing YA Climate Fiction

Booklist‘s February 15 issue, which went live on Booklist Online earlier today, spotlights nonfiction books about sustainability and the environment. Climate change is obviously the dominant environmental issue of our time—yet, with its outcome ultimately unknown, is it any wonder we turn to fiction to imagine the future? With gripping plots and identifiable heroes, we may even find that fantasy seems more real and immediate than the cold, hard facts, no matter how harrowing they are. This list, by Sharon Rawlins, was originally published under the title “Genre Guide: Clifi (Climate Fiction) in YA Lit” on the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) blog, The Hub: Your Connection to Teen Reads. If you haven’t visited, check it out: you’ll find a one-stop-shop for information about teen reads, including reading recommendations, YALSA lists and awards, book trailers and other book-related videos, and best-of-the-best lists.

Climate fiction (CliFi) books (also known as eco-fiction) are ones that deal with climate change as part of the plot in which the characters struggle to survive. A lot of dystopian novels are clifi books because the breakdown of society is attributed to a catastrophic event like a nuclear war that affects the climate. Not all of these novels are realistic fiction or science fiction; at least one contains fantastical elements as well.

Photo Jan 18, 3 35 37 PMThe Islands at the End of the World, by Austin Aslan

Leilani, 16, and Mike, her ecologist father, go to Honolulu for treatment for her epilepsy but when a cloud-like organism appears in the sky after a tsunami, it causes the world to panic and plunges the metropolitan area into chaos. She and her father find themselves detained in an internment camp and struggle to get back to their family on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Photo Jan 18, 1 50 27 PM

Parched, by Georgia Clark

Natural resources are at an all-time low in 16-year-old Tess’s futuristic world. Most remaining supplies are funneled into Eden, a walled city of privilege, where she was born, but the citizens who live outside the wall in the Badlands are much worse off. After the death of her scientist mother Tessa decides to combat this inequality by joining a rebel group called Kudzu and uncovers a shocking government plot to carry out genocide in the Badlands using artificial intelligence.

Photo Jan 18, 2 32 17 PMH2O, by Virginia Bergin

Two weeks after the radio in the United Kingdom started broadcasting the warning, “It’s in the rain. It’s fatal and there’s no cure,” the drinkable water is running out and most of the population is dead. Ruby’s one of the survivors and she’s left with two options: persevere on her own, or embark on a treacherous journey across the country to find her father—if he’s even alive.

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The Ward, by Jordana Frankel

In this gritty, post-apocalyptic debut novel, 16-year-old Ren is a tough orphan surviving in a Manhattan ravished by global warming, floods, and a deadly illness called the Blight. She’ll do almost anything to support herself and her dying friend, Aven. She’s working undercover for the hated Governor Voss and his vicious police force, spearheading their desperate search for fresh water. But she’s not aware of the full extent of the devious Governor’s plans.

Photo Jan 18, 3 37 03 PMNot a Drop to Drink, by Mindy McGinnis

Water is very scarce. Lynn and her mother eke out a hardscrabble existence, protecting their farmhouse and small pond with lethal force against both wildlife and trespassers. After her mother is killed, Lynn befriends a neighbor and some refugees. When they’re drawn into a desperate struggle against raiders who’d steal everything they possess, Lynn discovers just how hard she can fight for those she loves.

Photo Jan 18, 3 29 29 PMAfter the Snow, by S. D. Crockett

2013 Morris Award finalist, this novel features 15-year-old Willo Blake, born after the 2059 snows that ushered in a new ice age. He encounters outlaws, halfmen, and an abandoned girl during his journey in search of his family, who mysteriously disappeared from the freezing mountain that was their home.

Photo Jan 18, 2 10 30 PMBreathe, by Sarah Crossan

Crossan explores a dystopian world in which oxygen is a rare commodity, strictly controlled by the government of a domed city or Pod that houses much of the world’s diminished population. Sixteen-year-old Quinn, a wealthy Premium, and his best friend Bea, one of the city’s many underprivileged Auxiliaries, are about to embark on a camping trip outside the pod when they meet Alina, part of a band of rebels dedicated to replanting trees and restoring the oxygen-rich atmosphere of generations past. All three narrate alternating chapters as they work to stay alive in the deadly outside world and their fragile bond is threatened as tensions rise to the point of all-out war and revolution.

Photo Jan 18, 11 21 05 PMSolstice, by P. J. Hoover

Teenaged Piper lives in a near future where excessive heat has killed millions and, even on normal days, students in Piper’s school have to spray themselves with chemical coolants. Austei, Piper’s hometown, is attempting to build large protective spheres to protect its residents. When Piper turns 18 she receives a mysterious gift from a father she’s never met and discovers a universe she never knew existed—a sphere of gods and monsters. While gods battle for control of the Underworld, Piper’s life spirals out of control as she struggles to find the answer to the secret of her very identity.

Can you think of others?

Sharon Rawlins is currently reading galley of An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir.

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

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