December 27, 2011

Blood Red Road

by Moira Young
Doubleday Canada
459 pp.
Ages 14+

Moira Young's debut novel, Blood Red Road, begins as a dust storm: sudden, painful, devastating and gritty.  In their post-Wreckers world at Silverlake, eighteen-year-old Saba and her family endure the lack of rain and resources, looking to the stars for guidance and the landfill for materials. After a violent dust storm, accompanied by lightning, which turns everything red, life just shifts from bad to worse.  Men on horseback murder her Pa and abduct her twin, Lugh.  Leaving her shanty existence for the first time, Saba pursues her brother's trail, accompanied by her pet crow Nero and her nine-year-old sister, Emmi.  Learning more about her parents' early lives and their stay in Hopetown, Saba heads for the brutal town where the violent Tonton, who took Lugh, control the people and slaves with the use of a drug, chaal.  Unfortunately, it's Saba's anger and tenacity that make her attractive to Rooster Pinch and Miz Pinch, who press her into the brutality of cage-fighting (as the "Angel of Death") by threatening Emmi.  Sadly, only if they escape Hopetown do Saba and Emmi have any chance of finding Lugh. 

Their isolation at Silverlake has not prepared Saba for the multitude of characters that she encounters in her quest for Lugh, making it difficult for her to assess accurately their true natures, sometimes not until it is too late.  Her most difficult relationships seem to be with Emmi and with Jack, a young male cage-fighter.  Saba continues to vacillate between trust and resentment, often overlooking the insights of others or almost squandering opportunities for assistance.  As strong as she is physically and emotionally, Saba's misunderstanding and naiveté weaken her, threatening to jeopardize her self-imposed mission.

The grittiness of the story is matched by the text, told from Saba's perspective and in her words, just as she speaks them.  She trusts the red hot in her stummick that tells of her raging anger and she knows about talkin an fightin but not about books or history or the technology of the Wreckers such as their bolt shooters or long lookers. The text can be disconcerting to read, with its lack of quotation marks for dialogue and its perfunctory spelling, but it emphasizes the reinvention of a society to its most fundamental - survival.  Literacy and progress have been eschewed as the values of a Wreckers' society whose failure is evident in their abandoned settlements littering the landscape.

Justifiably, Blood Red Road has been compared to Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy with its theme of survival in a dystopian world led by a despot and his cohorts who rule over the suffering masses.  Luckily, another commonality lies in the book's inclusion in a trilogy.  To my great relief, Blood Red Road is just Book 1 in the Dust Lands trilogy so readers (particularly those reading it in the White Pine reading program) can look forward to a sequel in 2012.  My own heavy heart at the end of my reading of Blood Red Road has been assuaged, knowing that soon enough I will learn more about Jack's pre-Saba life, the mystery of DeMalo and the nature of Saba, Lugh and Emmi's new life at the Big Water.

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