My first Big Book Summer read was Blood Red Road, a dystopian/post-apocalyptic teen/YA novel by Moira Young. The book is written in a unique, sparse style that took some getting used to, but the compelling story pulled me in and held my attention.
Eighteen-year old Saba lives in a desolate future wasteland with her twin brother, Lugh, their father, and their 9-year old sister, Emmi. Their mother died giving birth to Emmi, and the family lives a fairly harsh existence, plagued by dust storms and struggling day-to-day to find food.
Their difficult but peaceful existence is disrupted by a raging sandstorm one day that brings four mysterious, cloaked horsemen who snatch Lugh and take him away. Devastated by the loss of her beloved twin, Saba sets out on a quest to find Lugh. Away from the isolation and safety of their home, Saba discovers that the outside world is a dangerous and frightening place. She is forced to take care of and defend herself for the first time in her life, and she learns she is much stronger than she thought. Along the way, she meets a clever, attractive loner named Jack whom she’s not sure she can trust and an all-girl gang of revolutionaries called the Free Hawks.
The whole story is told in Saba’s voice, in a sort of slang, and written in a spare style without quotation marks. Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter, where Lugh is trying to fix their roof with help from his sisters:
And then there’s Emmi. She’s doin what she always does, which is pester me an Lugh. She dogs my heels as I go from the ladder to the junk pile and back.I wanna help, she says.Hold the ladder then, I says.No! I mean really help! All you ever let me do is hold the ladder!Well, I says, maybe that’s all yer fit fer. You ever think of that?She folds her arms across her skinny little chest and scowls at me. Yer mean, she says.So you keep telling me, I says.
When I first began reading the novel, I found the style a bit off-putting, but it didn’t take long for me to get into the rhythm of it. Once the story pulled me in, I got used to the unusual writing approach, and by the end of the novel, it felt like exactly the right way to tell the story from Saba’s perspective, reflecting the desolation of that time and place.
This is a fast-paced, action-packed story of a young woman finding her inner strength in a dangerous and lawless time. It’s filled with twists and turns that keep you guessing…and cheering for Saba and her new friends. The title page says this is Dustlands, Book 1. I can’t wait for Book 2 (scheduled or release on October 30)!
459 pages, Margaret K. McElderry Books (Imprint of Simon & Schuster)