“[I]n the end, the truth was a harsh and ugly one: in order to change the status quo, we had to be destructive. Seize control of the narrative. Redirect the plot” (131).

Set in a near-future Taipei ravaged by pollution, Want follows a group of teenage environmental activists. Their antagonist owns a factory that not only contributes significantly to environmental degradation but also manufactures expensive bodysuits that wealthy inhabitants of Taipei use to protect themselves from the health hazards posed by poor air quality, thereby exacerbating social inequality in the city. As the antagonist uses increasingly violent means to prevent the introduction of stricter environmental protection laws, the protagonists also resort to militant tactics, including kidnapping, burglary, hacker attacks, and a bombing that eventually destroys the antagonist’s factory.

Its explicit representation of the interconnections between social inequality, capitalism, and ecocide sets Want apart from other young adult dystopias. The thrilling story full of action and romance is told from the perspective of the teenage protagonists, making it easy for the readers to relate to their feelings and actions. The novel is well suited to initiate discussions about the different effects of climate change depending on one’s socio-economic status and the potential of collective action (and youth climate activism more specifically) in the face of corporate greed. Through its celebratory portrayal of the teenage activists as empathic idealists (and through its absolute vilification of the antagonist), Want justifies their violent acts and can thus spark conversations about the (il)legitimacy of militant environmental activism.

Brady L. Nash suggests that teachers might focus particularly on how the novel represents advanced technology both as a facilitator of oppression and as a potential tool for resistance. Additionally, Alena Cicholewski praises Want’s diverse cast of characters that not only includes protagonists of Chinese, Indian, and Filipino descent, respectively, whose socio-economic status ranges from wealthy to impoverished, but also two queer girls. She highlights the novel’s recognition of how capitalist systems turn those commonly considered as less-than-human into exploitable commodified resources. However, Cicholewski also points out that the protagonists’ empathy seems to be limited to other humans with less consideration for more-than-human life forms.

©2023 ClimateLit (Alena Cicholewski)


For academic articles on the novel, see

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017

Pages: 336

Lexile Score: HL830L

ISBN: 9781481489225

Audience: Ages 14+

Format: Novels

Topics: Activism, Capitalism, Collective Climate Action, Dystopia, Ecocidal Market Economy, Ecocide, Environmental Degradation, Environmental Health Risks, Environmental Injustice, Environmental Law, Greed, Pollution, Poverty, Social Inequality, Urban Environments, Wealth Inequality, Youth Climate Activism