If you haven’t noticed, dystopian settings are all the rage in young adult novels. Through the popularity of The Hunger Games and Divergent, a whole genre is taking readers to other worlds and frankly these worlds are not ones we’d ever want to visit. But what would happen to you if you ended up in a desolate land where the U.S.A. you know today is destroyed? Would you survive? You can, if you follow our survival rules.
Rule #1: Learn the lay of the land.
First things first—figure out where the heck you are. Are you in a city? Desert? Dusty flatlands? Your best advantage will be knowing your landscape and how to use it to your advantage. Just ask Saba from Moira Young‘s novel Blood Red Road. The Dustlands are arid and open and without resources. But Saba knows her homeland enough to pack supplies.
Rule #2: Expect some sort of game.
If Ender and Katniss taught you anything, it’s to be ready for competition. And we know that games aren’t always just for fun. Think of cage-fighting Kaede in Marie Lu‘s Legend or all of the simulations that Tris has to fight through in Divergent.
Rule #3: Don’t trust the government.
This is probably the biggest no-brainer. Doesn’t matter if your society is being led by a Primo Elector, a President, or even a group of nuns. They are hiding something of particular importance when you’re facing the zombie apocalypse. Carrie Ryan‘s The Forest of Hands and Teeth proves that the people trying to keep you safe are the ones who can hurt you the most.
Rule #4: For that matter, don’t trust anyone.
Betrayal is an inevitability in dystopian young adult novels and sometimes the stab in the back will come from inside your very own house. Your enemy could turn into your best friend, or your best friend into your greatest enemy. Remember that you’re on your own, like Lena in Lauren Oliver‘s Delirium.
Rule #5: It’s not the best time for a relationship, but love happens.
So maybe you’re fighting off zombies or robot soldiers of a totalitarian regime… but have you seen the googly eyes you’ve been getting? Your life is at stake, but between the adrenaline and hormones, you could end up falling for your best friend, your enemy, or a total stranger, like Alex in Ilsa Bick‘s Ashes. Just don’t forget rule #4, mmmkay?
Rule #6: There is always something worth fighting for.
At some point, you will hit a low. Now, it could be that you’re captured and tortured. It could be that your enemies have killed your sister/brother/boyfriend/girlfriend/mother/father. Or maybe your allies have turned their backs on you, leaving you alone in a hopeless situation. Remember that you have yet to hit the climax of your story, and even though the ending isn’t what you might expect, some things will end up for the better.
This piece originally ran in July 2013.