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Cli-Fi Books

by Michelle Eberle on 2021-05-18T11:49:00-04:00 | 0 Comments

Blog Post by Laura Gardner, Teacher Librarian at Dartmouth Middle School in Dartmouth, Massachusetts and Chair of Climate Reality: Massachusetts Southcoast

For the last fifteen years, more and more MG and YA science fiction has been inspired by the climate crisis. We have a term for this: cli-fi (a play on the sci-fi genre). The books are dystopian in nature with a clear focus on the breakdown of society and the world being related to our inability to respond effectively to climate change. I find myself drawn to these books, likely because I’m interested in the climate crisis, but also because I enjoy exploring what happens next. What survival skills are needed in this new world? What groups are resilient and why? Where are there breakdowns in society? What is worth fighting for and what is worth sacrificing? As in reading any book about a topic for which I have no personal experience (divorce, abuse, trauma are other examples), I’m curious. Here are a few middle grade and young adult cli-fi novels you may want to read or include in your collection.


The Carbon Diaries book coverThe first book I remember reading that distinctly felt different than other dystopian novels was Carbon Diaries, 2015 by Saci Lloyd, published in 2009. At the time, I was still working as a youth services librarian at the Millicent Library in Fairhaven, and the book felt predictive of the future in a way I hadn’t seen in other novels. Perhaps I had a personal reason for connecting, as well; the protagonist is also named Laura and the diary entries about a world in 2015 where carbon is rationed, but the MC is just trying to live her teenage life. Now, looking back I’m disturbed by the fact that we are in 2021 and we still don’t have a price on carbon. I have to wonder if Saci Lloyd wishes she’d set the book in 2025 or is she fine with the fact that her title is an indictment on the inaction and stagnation of governments around the world? (I suspect the latter). 

Takeaway: Carbon pricing is a bummer for teenagers (and everyone else), but we should still do it...about 6 years ago or more if possible.


Dry book coverThe very plausible scenario of California running out of water resources is explored in Dry by Neal Shusterman. If you’re looking for a book that explores scarcity and the ways it leads to violence and societal collapse, this is a good one to try out. The book was written with the future movie in mind and you can see the action unfolding as you read (quickly. Very, very quickly. There’s really no other way to read a Neal Shusterman book in my opinion). A group of teenagers bands together to protect each other from the crazy mobs that rise up when government response is inadequate to the problem. 

Takeaway: Advance preparation matters! Also: reconsider where you live if essential resources are at risk. (California seems like a bad place to live for several reasons related to the climate crisis -- sorry).


The Marrow Thieves book coverThe Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline is a multiple-award winning, terrifying young adult book by an Indigenous author. In this future world climate change has gotten worse -- sea levels have risen and changed coastlines, pipelines have destroyed fresh water sources, and white people have forgotten how to dream. This last surprising effect of the climate crisis has led to a hunt for Indigenous bone marrow, believed to be able to restore white people’s ability to dream. A group of Indigenous children are led by two adults northward through Canada as they look for a safe place to live, but danger is lurking everywhere they go.

Takeaway: When the world breaks down, a part of our humanity goes with it.


One Small Hop book coverOne Small Hop by Madelyn Rosenberg (releasing TODAY!, on May 18, 2021) is striking because it’s MG cli-fi that manages to be funny despite the dark future it depicts. Ahab and his friends live in a future where the ocean is nicknamed “The New Dead Sea” and most animals and plants have gone extinct. When the kids find a live bullfrog, they embark on a journey to bike to Canada for a bullfrog mating experiment. Hilarity ensues. In this book, kids are the only ones who can be trusted; even the new Environmental Police Force is really a farce. Why am I not surprised that kids are the ones who have to save the planet? 

Takeaway: Cli-fi can be funny and fun. Who knew? 


This is just a small sample of cli-fi for young people. Some others I’ve enjoyed are Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King, Hoot by Carl Hiiasen, and Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (not specifically about the climate crisis, but also absolutely about the climate crisis -- read it and see what I mean). These books have enormous potential to help young people visualize a future that may or may not come to fruition and that visualization is the first step to resilience, preparedness, and advocating for change so the worst imaginings don’t come to pass. What cli-fi novels on this list have you read? What adult books would you classify as cli-fi?


About the author:  Laura Gardner, a National Board Certified Teacher in Library Media, is Teacher Librarian at Dartmouth Middle School in Dartmouth, Massachusetts and Chair of Climate Reality: Massachusetts Southcoast. Her chapter has recently begun a 100% committed campaign to convince businesses and local communities to commit to go 100% renewable (excluding heating, cooling, and transportation) by 2030. Professionally, Laura was awarded the School Library Journal (SLJ) School Librarian of the Year Co-finalist Award in 2016 and the AASL Reader Leader social media superstar award in 2019. She's a HUGE reader, a mother, and an avid runner and can be found on Instagram at @LibrarianMsG. 

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