Tag Archives: dystopian YA

Legend – wait for it – DARY

I just finished Legend (Putnam 2011) by Marie Lu.  It was legendary. 

This was as fun as a book about plague-riddled slums can be.  Day is a stereotypical folk hero much like Robin Hood – no one knows who he is, but he shows up to do things like disable government airplanes and rob banks to fight an oppressive system.  No one knows who he is or even what he looks like [insert your favorite superhero comparison here].  He also has a tendency to mock the soldiers he bests, which really irks those in charge.  June is a military prodigy.  She had a perfect score on her Trial, and she is moving through military school with a quickness.  She’s basically that kid who is getting her  Harvard PhD at 15.  Their worlds collide when June’s older brother Metias is murdered and Day takes the blame.  June is promoted by Metias’ commander so that she can hunt Day down, a job she gladly takes.  Though she has prodigious tracking skills, she actually stumbles on Day by accident when he rescues her from a rioting mob.  It seems that all the elite military training in the world won’t teach you the unspoken rules of a street fight.  When June figures out that the boy who  rescued her is actually Day of all people, she has a hard time reconciling the hardened criminal she’s heard about for years with the boy who bandages her stab wound and takes care of Tess, an orphaned street girl a few years younger than he is.  Nevertheless, after she follows him one night when he goes to check on his family, she reports his location and theirs to her superiors.  She soon finds out that her government isn’t as trustworthy as she thought they were and that her opinion doesn’t matter as much as she thought it did.  After discovering some Deep, Dark  Government Secrets that Metias had uncovered, she changes sides and helps Day escape, though at a significant price.  (Sorry for spoiling anyone who did not see that coming a million miles away.)

This was really good as far as current teen dystopians go, possibly my favorite since The Hunger Games.  It’s not as gripping, but it’s hard to top mandatory televised wholesale murder of children for keeping me on the edge of my seat late into the night, ignoring empty cupboards and the laundry hamper so that I can find out what happens next.  Instead, this government is secretly spreading and curing plague in the poor sectors of town, using the fear of it to keep the less fortunate squarely under its thumb.  They’re also using slum residents as human guinea pigs in labs while pretending that they’re in labor camps. It’s still government-mandated murder, but much more insidious.  The worst offenses also occur off-page, so you lose some of the urgency that HG sports.  Legend leaves itself open to at least one sequel, and I am glad because there are loose ends that I need to follow up on (ahem, Eden).  However, if this is the only book in the series that is ever published, it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger that makes me shake my fist at the heavens in frustration.  I liked that the chapters alternated viewpoints so that we saw both sides of the story, but I did not appreciate Day’s chapters being printed in gold type.  It was difficult to read by the harsh fluorescent lighting in the gym, and it slowed me down.  Frustrating.  Sometimes I needed to read faster than that.  I never really understood why they changed the type color for his sections in the first place – I kept waiting for some revelation that made gold type the obvious choice, and I never saw it (I suppose I could have missed it if it came up during a particularly exciting part where I was exclusively focused on plot, though).  If the designers felt that it was necessary to change the color to help differentiate his sections (already in different fonts and with running headers telling you who is speaking, which seems sufficient to me), why the designers chose such a difficult color is beyond me.  It matches the cover, but I don’t think that’s enough of a reason to strain my eyes.  I’m already blind, people.  In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that  I read a galley proof, so this may change in the final edition or it may be easier to read on the paper in the hardcover book.  If it’s the same, you’ll need to resign yourself to crows’ feet as you squint at Day’s chapters.  There’s probably an expensive cream made from sheep placenta or something that you can use to fix them later.  This is not to be missed.


Too Many Boyfriends: A Serious Problem to be Taken Seriously

Cassia Reyes has a sickness, and it cannot be cured by more cowbell.  She, like so many other YA heroines these days, suffers from Too Many Boyfriends Syndrome (TMBS).  It’s becoming quite the epidemic.  Some authors pack their books so full of boyfriend drama that they forget about the actual plot (I’m looking at you, House of Night), while others manage to slip it in as a nice arc while the rest of the story goes on around them (well played, Hermione Granger).  Either way, it’s hard to find a YA heroine who doesn’t face this dilemma somewhere along the way.  The prevalence of this theme lets us know that it’s a Serious Problem, and we should Pay Attention.

I wasn’t surprised by the TMBS when I started reading Matched by Ally Condie (Dutton 2010).  It’s right there in the title and jacket copy.  Cassia lives in a communist dystopian future where marriages are arranged.  All citizens decide as teenagers whether or not they want to get married.  Teenagers.  Because a good time to make life choices is right in the middle of a moody, turbulent phase of life.  Oy.  Fortunately, these kids have been relieved of the burden of choosing an appropriate spouse by their government, which arranges all of the marriages.  Communism to the EXTREME – everyone who wants to get married does.  Equality!  It’s a pervasive theme throughout the whole book.  Now, before you get all uppity, I understand that some cultures still practice arranged marriages and that they work out well for the most part, so this isn’t really a crazy idea.  Also, my grandparents all married as teens, and their marriages lasted, so clearly there is something to this.  It’s just not a life choice that I would make, but to each their own.  Anyways, Cassia chooses to be Matched, and everything goes swimmingly at the big banquet celebration.  It turns out that her perfect mate is already her best friend, and everyone in town is pleased as punch for the happy couple.  Cassia decides to look at what the government thought she should know about Xander for kicks, thinking it would be a laugh since they are already BFF, and she is familiar with all of his vital stats.  And then, briefly, ANOTHER FACE SHOWS UP.  That’s right.  It’s possible that this little system isn’t perfect.  While this isn’t a Face on the Milk Carton kind of revelation, it still shakes Cassia’s world view to the core.  This bombshell coupled with a secret forbidden poem (Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas) from her grandfather on his deathbed inspires her to become a FIGHTER à la Xtina, and she starts to question the Society’s rules, albeit with better hair.  I hope.  Did you guys see The Voice?  Girlfriend needs a hot oil treatment or something.

I have to say, the beginning of this book is not terribly exciting.  There is a lot of exposition going on, but once it picks up, it REALLY picks up.  I am anxious for the next one because I was pretty close to the end when I was totally drawn in instead of being just interested, and  I’m hoping that we will get to skip all of the exposition hoo-ha and dive right into the good stuff for part deux.  The turning point is when Ky (Cassia’s almost-Match) gets press-ganged into the army to fight an unknown enemy out on the border provinces, and then the Officials make everyone take forgetting pills so that they don’t remember this unpleasant little incident. Cassia doesn’t take hers, though, and she decides to go after him, the subversive little minx.  Her family and Xander both agree to help her hunt Ky down.  Crossed should be action-packed, and I can’t wait.

I do wish that Ky and Xander’s characters were a little more developed.  Ky gets some okay character development as Cassia learns more about him, but Xander is a bit two-dimensional.  He actually reminds me of a less awesome Gilbert Blythe – he’s pretty unflawed, and therefore uninteresting.  Xander is always there for Cassia, even when he knows that she’s falling for Ky.  He’s upset that he’s not her first choice, but he helps her go after him.  He breaks rules for her.  He is resigned to his fate as second best.  Zzzzzzzzzzz.  Ky’s status as an Aberration makes him marginally more interesting, but he didn’t commit the Infraction that classified him as a second-class citizen; his father did, so Ky is also edging into dull faultless hero territory.  He does buy an illegal poem on the black market, so he’s willing to flout the rules to make Cassia happy, too.  He’s also the only person Cassia knows who actually knows how to write instead of type.  This endears him to me more than anything else, and it’s probably the main reason that I like him more than Xander.  I do love pretty handwriting, and it irks me every time I hear news stories about legislation to eliminate cursive from school curriculum.  It’s pretty.  Let the kids learn it.  (Also, if Matched teaches us anything, it’s that eliminating bits and pieces of your culture is a slippery slope down to a Hundred History Lessons, a Hundred Poems, a Hundred Songs, etc.)  I understand that the two guys are supposed to be equally awesome so that you get that Cassia isn’t choosing Ky because he’s better than Xander but because she feels differently around him.  However, I don’t see how she wouldn’t have major self-esteem issues either way because of their equal faultless awesomeness.  It would start to wear on a girl.  Perhaps she should look for a third boyfriend on her quest to find Ky who isn’t quite so perfect.  One can never have too many boyfriends in YA.  It’s best to keep your options open.