Recommendations for a dystopian novel by a Black or Hispanic author
November 20, 2020 6:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking to replace 1984 in an 8th grade curriculum with a novel by a Black or Hispanic author. I'd like to stay in the dystopia genre or adjacent to that genre. Looking for recommendations to research.
posted by archimago to Writing & Language (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
I’ll just throw this one in-Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline-a Canadian Inidigenous (Métis) author. Reading it now for my book club and it’s a great, chilling, YA novel.
posted by purenitrous at 7:07 AM on November 20 [7 favorites]


And a classic by a Black author would be Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.
posted by purenitrous at 7:09 AM on November 20 [30 favorites]


Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
posted by cheesegrater at 7:15 AM on November 20 [6 favorites]


should have previewed! Kindred, also by Octavia Butler, is more of a historical book but still incredible (and horrifying)
posted by cheesegrater at 7:19 AM on November 20


Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson
posted by zadcat at 7:25 AM on November 20 [5 favorites]


Stone Sky series by NK Jemisin... maybe not quite dystopian, but close enough, I'd say!
posted by RajahKing at 7:28 AM on November 20 [2 favorites]


This is an interesting request, because it's never been more relevant to be teaching 1984 than right now.
That being said, you might recognize that from the perspective of Black authors, they've always been living in a dystopia, so alternate realities, for them, might be utopian, whereas a straightforward, this is our life in the USA right now, might mirror themes in 1984 closely.
The book that came to mind for me is Black No More by George Schuyler, but I'd read it first if I were you and see if you could even use it in your school. It was written in 1931, and there is period racist language throughout. 8th graders might not be mature enough to read this book unironically.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:11 AM on November 20


As a replacement for 1984 you are simply not going to get a better answer than Parable of the Sower. You think 1984 is relevant right now? JUST WAIT.
posted by babelfish at 8:30 AM on November 20 [8 favorites]


Not sure what's allowed in an 8th grade curriculum, but there's a lot of rape described in Parable of the Sower which might be difficult material to HAVE to read for school.
posted by edbles at 8:55 AM on November 20 [7 favorites]


I don't think you can teach Parable of the Sower in an 8th grade classroom, at least not as a whole-class novel. It's really good but disturbing and incredibly graphic (sexual violence, descriptions of aftermath of really horrifying torture). I read it recently in an adult book group and the adults had a hard time with it. (on preview: seconding edbles!)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 8:59 AM on November 20 [6 favorites]


This might be in the category of stories about teenagers that are too creepy to teach to a class full of teenagers, but I found Sofia Samatar's How to Get Back to the Forest haunting. You can also find it in her short story collection Tender.
posted by yarntheory at 9:21 AM on November 20


Octavia Butler is fantastic but I agree that you need to read her novels first because they might not be super appropriate for an 8th grade classroom, as these things go.

Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi is a fantastic dystopian YA novel, but I don't know if he's Hispanic or how he identifies (though you should be able to find out without too much difficulty; certainly the book includes a diverse array of characters). Nnedi Okorafor is another writer to explore. She's Nigerian-American and has written for both adult and YA-audiences and has won Hugo and Nebula awards.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:21 AM on November 20


I'm on team Parable of the Sower. I read it recently, and while violence is a significant part of it, I did not think it was gratuitous, or even more intense than the torture scenes in 1984, or for that matter, the typical movies that many 8th graders already watch.
posted by oxisos at 10:31 AM on November 20


I'm also an English teacher (both middle and high school).

Parable of the Sower is the obvious one.

But I'd go with Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo, a Nigerian-British author.

It's a reimagining of slavery with white people being enslaved in a dominant African culture. It's incredibly well-written, though (given the subject) it's definitely intense. It is a YA novel.

Here's the goodreads summary:
What if the history of the transatlantic slave trade had been reversed and Africans had enslaved Europeans? How would that have changed the ways that people justified their inhuman behavior? How would it inform our cultural attitudes and the insidious racism that still lingers today? We see this tragicomic world turned upside down through the eyes of Doris, an Englishwoman enslaved and taken to the New World, movingly recounting experiences of tremendous hardship and the dreams of the people she has left behind, all while journeying toward an escape into freedom. (link)
posted by guster4lovers at 11:15 AM on November 20 [2 favorites]


Also, good for you for replacing 1984 in 8th grade. I can't tell you how many honours-level 8th graders come to my YouTube audiobook channel to listen to 1984 and say that they're really struggling with it.

I read it in college and taught it in 12th grade. It was often still a struggle then.
posted by guster4lovers at 11:17 AM on November 20


This goes outside your parameters a bit, but even though Nancy Farmer is white, I read her book The Ear, The Eye and the Arm in seventh grade and it is hands down what got me into reading afrofuturism. It's a story of lost siblings in future South Africa, there's technology and the future effects of toxic waste and demons in masks, and there is perhaps one character in the whole book who isn't a person of color. The House of The Scorpion, also by Farmer, is set in post apocalyptic Mexico and is similarly excellent.

I see the importance of getting writers of color on the shelves, so these probably won't be your first choice. They's still be great in "readalikes" list for Nnedi Okorafor's Binti trilogy, for example
posted by theweasel at 4:52 PM on November 20


Long Division by Keise Laymon is not dystopian. But if dystopian-adjacent includes magical realism and time travel, Long Division is a newer (2013) novel that could fit the bill.

Damnificados by JJ Amaworo Wilson is set in an unnamed South American city and has dystopian elements.
posted by lumpy at 5:04 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]


OK also, since I didn't actually make any suggestions -- I totally stand by you can't teach Parable of the Sower as a whole-class 8th grade novel (I cannot imagine the parent complaints you'd get in my building), but you could absolutely do it in a book group with parent permission. Years ago I did a dystopian unit with 8th grade where we read a bunch of short stories as a whole class, then split off into book groups -- I think dystopian novels lend themselves really well to that format, as students can still have whole class discussions about commonalities across the genre. Plus it means your students will be introduced to a bunch of different novels, if you're having them compare/contrast, which is especially valuable in a genre that's as resonant and relevant as this one.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 8:26 AM on November 21 [1 favorite]


That being said, you might recognize that from the perspective of Black authors, they've always been living in a dystopia, so alternate realities, for them, might be utopian, whereas a straightforward, this is our life in the USA right now, might mirror themes in 1984 closely.
This comment made me think of recommending Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi.
posted by bixfrankonis at 7:54 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]


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