Friday, February 7, 2014

Young Adult Fiction: Legend by Marie Lu

I have been itching to do another young adult series ever since I covered The Hunger Games two years ago. So I've decided to read the entire Legend series by Marie Lu and post about it over the next three weeks. Sorry Derick S. No Harry Potter this time around.

The Situation: It's the not-so-distant future and what used to be the United States of America is now split up into two warring countries: the Republic and the Colonies. June Iparis is a prodigy living in the richer part of Los Angeles, which is part of the Republic. She scored a perfect score of 1500 five years ago on her Trial, a test that all ten year-olds in the Republic must take that decides their future. June's perfect score made her somewhat of a celebrity, and it meant she got to pick from the best of the best of the universities that the Republic has to offer after six years of high school. And even though she is still only fifteen years-old, she is already attending Drake University and getting into plenty of trouble. But she soon must leave Drake behind as the Republic decides to start using her for the military now. They believe she is the one who can finally capture their most wanted criminal, Day. And she willingly agrees, especially after Day becomes the prime suspect in the murder of Metias, June's brother.

The Problem: Day has been on the run for quite some time now, but he still manages to keep an eye on his family, which consists of his mother, his older brother John, and his younger brother Eden. Day has always done his best to provide for his family, who live in the slums of the Lake district, with clothes and food, all while evading authorities and taking care of his timid partner, Tess. Day's worst fear comes true when his family's house is marked with the dreaded red 'X,' meaning that someone in the house has the plague. Now he is desperate to find a plague cure, and a risky break-in at the hospital puts him on the Republic's radar again as they peg him for the murder of Metias. June grew up privileged, and has always been fiercely obedient to the Republic and believes in what they're doing and the war with the Colonies. Day has always had to fight for everything he has and has always fought against the Republic while never actually hurting anyone. Metias' death will bring the two into contact, but what comes out of this encounter neither one of them would have ever expected. And what they thought they knew about themselves and their country will be called into question.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult fiction novel that is part one in a three-part series, or trilogy. It is also dystopian fiction, or even dystopian science fiction, as it is set in the future and it is a future much worse off than what we have now. The U.S. is now divided into two warring factions, with the dividing line being drawn from the eastern borders of North and South Dakota (referred to in the book only as 'Dakota'), down along the southern edge of South Dakota towards Wyoming and Colorado, and down through Texas, giving the Republic the Panhandle, as well as El Paso, but not the Valley. This separation of Texas is actually probably the part of Lu's version of the future that outraged me the most (also the idea of high school being six years long), but I digress. The reader isn't given much to go on as far as what the Colonies are like, or really the area outside of Los Angeles, but I am definitely imagining a 1984 situation. Seems like someone is always watching, and the Republic and the Colonies have seemingly always been at war with each other. Also, there are levels of government control that would make most readers cringe, and the military is a much bigger deal. The divide between the haves and the have nots is bigger, and apparently, every year, a new deadly plague breaks out, and only the rich get the yearly vaccines that keep them from being infected. Yeah, things are pretty messed up. Lu stated that she got the idea for the book while watching Les Miserables and wondering how the relationship between a criminal and a detective would translate in a modern story. Naturally, just the mention of Les Miserables being part of the origin of this story was enough for me to pick it up. 

My Verdict: Definitely a strong beginning, and it made me want to continue with the series. Although I am just going to go ahead and say this, this first book does not end on a cliffhanger, and for that I am grateful. Chances are I won't be so lucky with the second one, but we'll see. The only real bone I have to pick with Lu's Legend is that sometimes the characters and their emotions just aren't believable, especially June and Day's. June is disciplined and fiercely loyal to the Republic, so if she ever shows moments of breaking out of that I just don't quite believe it. And Day is incredibly independent and self-reliant and knows trusting strangers can get him into trouble. So if he waivers even just a little, I am just not entirely convinced. But maybe the evolution of the characters throughout the next two books will convince me. Again, we'll just have to see, but I am hopeful, and also incredibly excited. The setting is gritty and tense, for both June and Day, whether they are in the nicer parts of the city or the more downtrodden ones. Lu has created a future where kids are only seen as a resource for the military, and she translates the anxiety that must come with that incredibly well. 

Favorite Moment: *spoiler alert* When June discovers that even though Metias is dead, he may have left something behind to provide her with answers and possibly save lives.

Favorite Character: Honestly, at this point, it is a tie between June and Day. They both have great qualities, and they can both also be incredibly stupid. They both get equal shares in my admiration and frustration.

Recommended Reading: This should come as no surprise, but I recommend both 1984 and the first book in The Hunger Games series. They are two very different types of stories that take two different approaches to the dystopian fiction novel, but I do think if you like Legend it would be worth trying The Hunger Games as well. 

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