In A Nutshell
Marie Lu's Legend is the first in a trilogy of dystopian young adult fiction, and boy does it set the reader up for a thrill ride. Lu was an art director for a video game company before turning to writing, and her attention to crisp, futuristic settings and cold military villains hearkens back to video game imagery. When she describes the buttons on June's uniform, the details are so vivid that you can almost imagine her walking across a screen.
Like many other dystopian novels, Legend takes place in a post-war America that's definitely not what it used to be. The government is totalitarian, and the class divides are pretty terrible. Day—one of the main characters—comes from the slums of Los Angeles, a place where people regularly die of the plague and are worked to death in factories. Kids from the slums have a pretty difficult time moving up in life and everyone lives a miserable existence.
Where there are slums there's usually wealth though, and June—the other main character—comes from a rich and privileged family. She's in college early, and her brother is a respected captain in the military. Despite all their differences, Day and June find that their worlds collide when he is accused of killing her beloved brother Metias and she is commanded to hunt him down. This begins a game of cat-and-mouse, but by the end, it becomes clear that they're not fighting against each other after all.
June and Day are remarkably similar: they're both smart (each scored 1500 on their Trials—the Republic's only perfect scores), headstrong, and fiercely protective of their families. And they both come to realize that the Republic has pitted them against each other. Day didn't kill Metias at all… the Republic killed him, along with the rest of June's family.
Legend is a fascinating tale about the dangers of power and totalitarian rule. In the Republic of America of the future, human life is no longer valued, and what matters most is that power is kept. This book is also a story about friendship in unlikely places though, and how we can misjudge people when we first meet them. Truths are revealed throughout the story, and we can only guess that there will be plenty more in the books to come.
Why Should I Care?
There are a million young adult dystopian novels on the market (evidently adolescents really like reading about the world falling apart), so why does Legend stand out from the pack?
Well first of all, it's a story that's relevant to American audiences in that it deals with a future wherein the western United States is now known as a totalitarian, military state called the Republic of America. Creepy and full of big brother paranoia? You betcha.
If you're interested in politics and how much the government should intrude on citizen life, then this is a book that raises some very thought-provoking questions. Should the government be able to put ten-year-olds through a rigorous test that dictates whether they're worthy of more education? Should everyone just be assigned jobs? And what would it look like if the government were allowed to decide if its citizens could live or die based off of their genetics?
June and Day find out a great deal of not-so-pleasant things about the government. Everything may seem hunky dory on the outside, but the government doesn't treat its people so well and in learning the truth, June and Day are able to make their own decisions… and to rebel against a system that doesn't work for them.
The good thing about dystopia is that it teaches young adults to think critically and not to just follow directions. After all, it's up to young people to create the future, and it's important for those young people to learn how to think properly and critically on their own. The trend runs strong with other dystopian novels like Hunger Games, which also happens to be a trilogy, just like the Legend trilogy.
Overall, if you have a fondness for rebels and questioning authority, then Legend is a book that's probably right up your alley. It's all about thinking critically for yourself and making decisions based off of your own morals rather than following directions like mindless sheep.