Study Guide

Legend Analysis

By Marie Lu

  • Tone

    Tensions Running High

    Here's the deal: no one in Legend is ever relaxed, and no one ever just kicks up their feet and takes a vacation. For June and Day everything is pretty much a life-or-death matter, so they're always on the lookout or running from something.

    Even before Day runs into all the trouble with June, he's in a difficult state—he's running away from the government, scavenging for food, and trying to make sure his family stays healthy. There's a scene that's especially high-octane where Thomas confronts June and tells him that she's under interrogation. You can almost smell the anxiety in the air:

    My first instinct is to attack Thomas. That's what I would have done if he'd caught me without so many soldiers around. Lunge at him with everything I've got, knock him unconscious, then reach Day and make a run for the exits. (2.16.1)

    Because of all the stressors that these characters are facing, the tone is never easygoing. It's always got a heightened feel to it because the characters are always on their guards. And the actual plotline doesn't help with the tension either—it's filled with potentially lethal twists and turns.

  • Genre

    Dystopian Literature; Young Adult; Coming of Age

    Dystopian Literature

    The future that Legend paints definitely isn't a pretty one—the government controls everything with an iron fist, slums are filled with sick and overworked people, and kids aren't even guaranteed education unless they can prove themselves worthy. And it gets worse: the government also is engineering a plague that they release upon the population for experimentation purposes. Super yikes, right? Everywhere you look in this book, a worst-case scenario seems to be playing out.

    Young Adult

    Legend falls squarely into the young adult genre because its two protagonists are both fifteen-year-olds. Even though the subject matter is bleak, the story is still about two young teenagers who embark upon adventures, discover a lot of dirty secrets, and slowly develop a romantic relationship.

    Coming of Age

    This is especially a coming-of-age story for June, who despite being a prodigy is actually quite sheltered from the realities of life in the Republic. She grows up in a rich family and is coddled by her older brother and protected from harsher truths. But it's only when she gets tangled up with Day that June starts to grow up—she starts to see the injustices in the Republic and starts to feel the first real inklings of romantic affection for someone. Of course, there must be easier ways to grow up than tracking down a wanted criminal…

  • What's Up With the Title?

    In Legend, the first of a trilogy, both of the main characters are definitely famous—though for very different reasons. Day is the Republic's legendary criminal; he's the one they're trying to hunt down because he keeps stirring up trouble and disappearing before they can catch him. June on the other hand is one of the elite. She is the Republic's prodigy child—the one who got a perfect 1500 score on her Trial. She's also slated to graduate from college very early and join the military.

    The book is all about the meeting of these two very different legends, so it would make sense that the title would reflect that. And perhaps the choice to make the word singular rather than plural is a deliberate one. After all, Day and June find out that they may be from vastly different backgrounds, but deep down inside they have a whole lot in common.

    It makes sense, too, that the next book in the series is called Prodigy—since it's about the two prodigies of the Republic. The final book is called Champion, so we just have to hope that this means that Day and June will win out at the end.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    The book ends with June and Day together, running from the law and planning to go to the waterfront to pick up Eden before crossing the border and going into Colonies territory, which signifies a fresh start for all the characters. The end of the book is rather symbolic because it demonstrates that even though June and Day started off in completely different places at the beginning of the book—one of them revered and the other hunted by the Republic—they wind up in the exact same place with the exact same plan at the end:

    We lie there together, watching the lightning and listening to the thunder, and waiting for the beginning of a rainy dawn. (2.18.32)

    Despite how different their lives seemed in the beginning, June and Day now share their plights—so the dawn is a rainy one because even though a new day has arrived, it doesn't come without its complications. Eden is still in custody, the Colonies are still across the border, and June and Day are both mourning the loss of beloved family members. But they're ready to face the next challenge together.

    The ending is also a cliffhanger. We're waiting to see what happens to the main characters as they cross over into the Colonies—and into their next adventure.

  • Setting

    Los Angeles, California, Republic of America

    Legend takes place in a setting that's both familiar and completely foreign. In the Los Angeles of the future, the United States of America no longer exists. Instead the Western (former) United States is now controlled by a totalitarian state called, unoriginally, the Republic of America. Instead of freedom and equality, the new America is one where kids are denied higher education, poor people are forced to work in coal mines until they die, and the government does sketchy biological testing on its citizens.

    Ruins of older buildings dot the lake, buildings abandoned by business owners and residents when the floodwaters rose. Giant waterwheels and turbines churn along the water's edge behind veils of smoke. (1.9.4)

    The Los Angeles that Day and the rest of the people in poor sectors know is one that isn't a pretty sight. It's grimy and depressing and filled with people who are just trying to make ends meet. The elite are of course shielded from this grim truth. In the new Republic, the class divisions are even more pronounced than before—rich people seem to live in one reality that is completely disparate from that of normal citizens.

    I don't see what the big deal is, though. I've worn nicer dresses before, and this one feels too modern and lopsided. This dress could've bought a kid in the slum sectors several months' worth of food. (2.2.9)

    The setting seems to be a commentary on the economic divide; there's a huge difference between the haves and have-nots in Legend. People like Thomas may say that it's because poor people are lazy and don't work hard enough, and that the rich deserve everything that they get, but it isn't true. Just like in today's world, there's the myth that if you just work hard enough, you can achieve the American dream—you can go to the top schools and become a celebrated member of the government. But it turns out that even people who deserve it, like Day, are stepped all over by the elite class.

    It's obvious that in this setting, everyone has to have a dog-eat-dog mentality. No one's going to look out for you, least of all the government, so everyone needs to watch their backs to make it out alive.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (4) Base Camp

    The writing style and linear storyline in Legend make it pretty easy for readers to follow. After all, the language is simple and crisp, and there's no ambiguity about who is telling the story or what's going on. A bit more complexity creeps in when it comes to ideas about government and self-autonomy, and this might trip up younger readers, but overall it's a fun book for anyone who likes action, adventure, and fighting back against the man.

  • Writing Style

    Crisp and Smart

    Legend is told from the perspective of two of the only kids in the Republic who scored perfect 1500s on their Trials, so it makes sense that the writing style would be crisp, intelligent, and never muddled since it's told from their points of view. Day and June are super smart, and the story is consistently told in a thoughtful and intelligent manner. They explain things that have happened in the past in a succinct way, and always take the time to think about what's going on.

    Even when Day's mother is killed in front of him, he takes the time to consider what June has been going through:

    June was not the one who shot my mother. She was not the one who'd brought the plague into my home. She was a girl who'd lost her brother, and someone had led her to believe I did it, and in anguish she had tracked me down. (2.9.24)

    Because the writing style is so clear and intelligent, it makes it so that the reader never gets lost in a story rife with twists and turns. Even if nothing's certain, and the characters seem to be trapped in some pretty dire situations, we still get a good play-by-play that helps us follow the action—and see the emotional sides of the characters and how they relate to each other.

  • Pendant Necklace

    Throughout the story, Day is always seen wearing his simple pendant necklace—it's something that he's very attached to and that he brings with him wherever he goes. The reason becomes clear later on when he has a flashback to the moment that his father brought home the pendant and gave it to him:

    In the southern swamplands between the two warfronts. It's a genuine coin from nineteen-ninety. See the name? United States. It was real. (2.9.44)

    It turns out that the pendant is a hiding place for something else—an old quarter (yes, as in twenty-five cents) that bears good old George Washington's mug on it. But this is a huge deal to Day's parents because it means that the United States of America once existed, that it's not something that's just a pipe dream or a myth. In this way, the pendant stands for the truth—the fact that justice and freedom used to reign, but the government doesn't want people to know about anymore.

    The pendant also reveals the truth when June sees Day reaching for it in the middle of the night. It's this piece of jewelry that gives his identity away—she can see right away that he really is the criminal Day. In the end though, the pendant becomes a truth that they both share and believe in—that there's a better world out there, and that the Republic is not the kind of government that they want to follow.

  • Metias's Journals

    Metias's journals seem pretty benign on the surface; he's just a guy who likes to write a lot and take notes on all the activities he does on a daily basis. Nothing too out of the ordinary, right? Wrong.

    In Legend, everything is about truth-seeking, and Metias's journals are another object designed to help June discover the truth. When she stumbles across a bunch of misspellings, she realizes that Metias must be leaving a message for her:

    Then I hear a click, see a faint light scan across my skin, and the white page disappears. In its place appears what looks like a blog. My breath catches in my throat. There are six brief entries here. (2.10.44)

    In leaving June his journals, Metias entrusts her with the real truth about the Republic—even though it happens to be particularly ugly. It's a call for her to do the right thing because he knows that she's a good person and that she won't let these injustices slide—and for June, it's also a way for her to still connect with her brother even from beyond the grave.

    Metias may be dead, but the Iparises are still united in their quest to bring justice to the citizens of the Republic. The journals make it so that Metias's presence is there even in June's most confused and desperate moments.

  • Rifle Grease

    On the night that Thomas picks up June and tells her that something's gone wrong at the hospital and that her brother is dead, he shows up with rifle grease on his forehead. This may seem like a minor detail at first, but the rifle grease comes to symbolize much more—it is the sign that Thomas is tainted with Metias's death. His blood is on his hands:

    These black marks look like rifle grease. Almost like the streak of grease that was on Thomas's forehead when I first saw him that night. (2.8.36)

    The rifle grease represents Thomas's treachery and lies. He's sullied as a person by the way that he's lied to June about her brother's death, and the way that he simply follows orders without thinking of the human consequences. And insofar as Thomas is just a yes man for the Republic, the grease symbolizes the systemic oppression—of people and of truth—that haunts everyone in this book.

  • Narrator Point of View

    First Person (Central Narrator)

    Legend is told from the first-person perspective of two main characters—Day and June—and the chapters switch back and forth between them. We only get their point of view from their voice in each chapter; so even if we know something from June's chapter, Day's not going to know it in the next chapter. This happens when they're staying together and he has no idea what her name is or where she comes from:

    She won't tell me her name.

    I can understand that well enough. Lots of kids on the streets of Lake try to keep their identities a secret, especially after participating in something illegal like a Skiz fight.
    (1.13.1-2)

    The first person narration makes it so that we get emotionally invested in the characters; we know what drives them, what makes them suffer, and why they make the mistakes they do. But because we have no more insight than they do, we can't guess what's going to happen in the future. It's all a wild ride for the reader and for our narrators.

    The split narration also allows us to see the same event from two different perspectives. For example, when Day's mom is killed, we get his perspective—which is pure shock and rage. But from June's perspective, we get guilt and horror, and because of this we understand how the same event is seen differently from behind Day's and June's eyes.

  • Plot Analysis

    Exposition

    On Opposite Sides

    In the beginning we get an introduction to the two main characters and where their lives are. Day is a street criminal who is on the run from the Republic; he scavenges in the trash for food, steals from the Republic, and came from one of the poorest sectors of Los Angeles. June, on the other hand, is a prodigy from a respected military family. She's graduating from college early and lives in a big, nice apartment with her brother, who's a captain in the military. They come from such different areas that it seems like it'd be impossible for their lives to intersect… right?

    Rising Action

    Cat and Mouse

    Things get complicated when Captain Metias (June's big bro) is killed while patrolling the hospital one night. The government tells June that Day did it, so she sets off to hunt him down and bring him to justice. As June hunts for a boy that she doesn't know, and Day runs from a government agent that he doesn't know, their paths intersect and they start to form a friendship. Of course, June eventually finds out that the boy she's been spending so much time with (and enjoying kissing) is actually the criminal Day, and she has to make a difficult decision.

    Climax

    Found Out

    The climax of the story happens when June discovers Day's identity and calls in the government to come collect him as he's trying to protect his family. Things do not go as planned—Captain Jameson orders Thomas to kill Day's mother and they take both John and Eden (Day's brothers) into custody. The whole event is very dramatic and sad, and ends with Day injured, devastated, and in prison, while June starts to feel ambivalent about her part in the Republic's master plan.

    Falling Action

    The Truth Comes Out

    June begins to uncover some disturbing truths through Metias's diaries. She finds out that her parents were killed by the government, and that Day didn't kill her brother—Thomas did. Due to these discoveries, June decides to turn her back on the government that she's been such a loyal citizen to this whole time and help Day escape. As soon as this choice is made, she starts planning, letting Day know, and enlisting the help of Kaede and the other Patriots.

    Resolution

    No Turning Back

    Once the plan is in place, June has to go through with it. When she gets the chance, she breaks out with Day and they rush past all the guards with the help of the Patriots. They pick up John—Day's lookalike brother—but at the last minute he pretends to be Day in order to buy them some time to escape. After this happens, there's no turning back for any of them. John has chosen his death, Day is making his way to freedom, and June has committed to living out the rest of her life as a traitor to the Republic.