A Dystopian or Utopian Book: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge 2020

October 16, 2020 | Christie

Comments (0)

TPL Reading Challenge 2020

Dystopian books, both classic and temporary, are interesting yet terrifying reads. This is because they often depict a future that feels like it could plausibly occur. While most are science fiction or fantasy and take place in futuristic society, there is no shortage of selection for dystopian or utopian reads of all kinds.

Here is just a sampling of suggested reads that fall under this popular genre.


Staff Recommendations


The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

In this dystopian society, the Axis powers were the victors of the Second World War. Slavery is legal once more. The few Jewish survivors are living under assumed names. And America is divided and occupied between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, with a neutral zone separating them. This chilling alternate history depicts what would happen to people living in this society when a book that depicts a world where the Allies won is found and falls into the hands of those who seek to change the course of their future. 

– Christie, Branch Head


Parable of the sower

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Butler is a giant of science fiction whose influence is felt across pop culture. Any list of dystopian novels would be incomplete without this first book in the Earthseed duology. The climate and racial crises in this novel are all too relevant and one can only marvel at Butler's prescience.

– Kimberly, Librarian


Moon of the crusted snow

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

I read this about a year and a half ago and didn't realize at the time how eerily prophetic it is!

– Cynthia, Manager


Brown girl in the ring

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

I first read this book years ago in a York University course called Black Women's Writing in the African Diaspora (with the phenomenal Prof. Andrea Davis), and it has stayed with me. It’s the story of Ti-Jeanne, a Caribbean Canadian woman living in the Burn – the post-apocalyptic wasteland of downtown Toronto. This area has been abandoned by the wealthy, who harvest organs from the poor. Strong female characters, super cool Caribbean cosmology, ruined old power systems giving rise to new powers, and set in this city – all stuff I love, in a great dystopian read.

– Winona, Senior Services Specialist


Ballad of songbirds and snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

I waited in much anticipation for Collins' prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy, and it did not disappoint! The story follows eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow and the tenth annual Hunger Games. Snow is assigned to mentor a tribute from District 12. The story is of course dystopian and explains Snow's dark descent into cruel madness.

– Eleni, Librarian


Battle royale

Battle Royale by Kōshun Takami

For those familiar with The Hunger Games, you'll definitely see a very similar story and themes! It's such a grim but also mind-blowing story. It has also had a movie and graphic novel adaptations.

– Ab, Manager


High rise

High-Rise by J.G. Ballard

I liked High-Rise by J. G. Ballard. The power goes out in a cutting edge apartment building. Deprived of modern conveniences the residents soon turn atavistic and tribal. It's a comment on how fragile society can be.

– Jamie, Public Service Assistant


Fifth season

The Fifth Season (Broken Earth Trilogy 1) by N.K. Jemisin

The book opens with a woman discovering her husband has killed one of their children and run away with the other. Meanwhile the planet is getting ready to enter one of its fifth seasons – devastating periods of climate change that the remaining scattered pockets of humanity spend decades preparing to survive. The whole trilogy is an amazing read.


Crosshairs by Catherine Hernandez

The writing is poetic while giving us a clear picture of the horrors that are facing the characters. The atrocities written are not new. And while we live in a country and city that is welcoming, it is worth noting that there are countries that will not and do not welcome diversity. Reading this book also opens up discussion on what the LGBTQ2S+ community faces. Just by being themselves and how the Others are treated in this book is horrifying. The unlikely friendships and bonds gives hope.

– Jennifer, Page


Back of the turtle

The Back of the Turtle by Thomas King

I was fortunate enough to see Thomas King at the Appel Salon a few years ago, promoting The Back of the Turtle. I'm a huge Thomas King fan, and this novel didn't disappoint! The story is about a wealthy executive grappling with the consequences of a defoliant he created that killed all the people and wildlife on the reserve his mother grew up on. Dystopian magic realism, with lots of King's amazing humour thrown in for good measure.

– Thomas, Branch Head


Never let me go

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I took this book home expecting historical fiction. It is set in the 1990s in an English boarding school and follows the stories of some students who make art. The blurb on the book didn't give any indication that it would throw a curve ball! I think of this as gothic romance meets science fiction.

– Nalini, Branch Head



The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

I read this classic in secondary school and aspects of it still stay with me to this day. It got me into the science fiction and dystopian genres. 

– Elsa, Senior Services Specialist


It can't happen here

It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

Written in 1935 during the heart of the Great Depression, this heavy slog but prophetic novel tells the tale through the viewpoint of a small-town newspaper editor named Doremus Jessup. Jessup is reporting about an American with fascist tendencies who successfully captures the presidential nomination of one of the major American political parties. Not only does Berzelius Windrip win the 1936 presidential election but he begins to work on turning the United States into a totalitarian state. Students of history may note the parallels with the Nazi regime in Germany, not to mention the authoritarian political viewpoints of Louisiana Senator Huey Long and Father Charles Coughlin in the 1930s. Those interested in current events may also find value in reading this novel.

– John, Branch Head


Do androids dream of electric sheep

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

This is a classic touches on our hopes, dreams and deepest fears and what it means to be human.

– Roman, Clerk-Caretaker


Recommendations from the Facebook Group

These are just some of the recommendations from our Facebook TPL Reading Challenge 2020 discussion group on this category:



We'll be hosting an online discussion for this category, along with "a book based on a fairy tale, myth or legend" on Wednesday, October 21 from 4 - 5:30 pm. Everyone is welcome! And if you miss the event, we'll be having more virtual TPL Reading Challenge events later this year. You can also watch the replay.

And if you've already completed the TPL Reading Challenge and Advanced Challenge 2020, please fill out our feedback survey. You can also enter our draw by submitting the titles you've read for a chance to win a prize!


What did you read for "a dystopian or utopian book"? Do you have other recommendations? Share in the comments below!


Edit: Edited Oct. 22, 11am, to add link to event replay.