Blood Red Road by Moira Young
Margaret K. McElderberry Books, 2011 (Currently Available)
Genre: Dystopia, Speculative Fiction
Face Value: Respectable. I had no shame in displaying this cover while I read it in public, I like the use of color and the stark solitude of Saba as she walks into the dust. It’s evocative of the desperation and bleakness depicted throughout the novel itself. But what I’m really excited about is this paperback cover I found on Goodreads, that’s similarly appropriate to the book but a little more eye catching and glamorous.
Does it Break the Slate? YES x a MILLION!!! This book is Slatebreaking on more than just the surface level of featuring a tough-yet-prickly protagonist who defies expectations. Saba is a fierce, determined, Slatebreaking heroine who consistently demonstrates physical, mental and emotional strength. And then there’s her younger sister Emmi, who proves herself in her own right. There’s the badass REBEL GANG OF FEMINISTS, The Free Hawks, who are so incredibly fantastic that they really deserve their own book, and teach Saba that sometimes it’s ok to rely on your friends and still be strong. And then there’s Saba’s relationship with Jack, which is mutual and smoldering and features an honest-to-goodness Anne of Green Gables reference. Seriously. I might be reading too much into this, but check out pages 298-300, when Saba finds herself hanging onto a spike in the middle or a raging river, only to be rescued by Jack, leading to her denial that she needed rescuing and quibbling banter between the two of them. Yeah, she may have been on a rescue mission, not pretending to be the Lady of Shallot, but I still found the similarities too strong to ignore. Plus Moira Young is Canadian! She has to have grown up with Anne.
Who would we give it to? Did you like The Hunger Games? Did you like The Knife of Never Letting Go? Did you like Graceling? Ok, READ THIS NOW.
Review: I had this book on my to-read stack for literally months. I kept renewing it, knowing that it had gotten amazing reviews but continuing to find myself interested in other things. It sounded so bleak and I had read so much dystopia and I kept getting distracted by other things. But in the last few days of 2011, as I was trying to work though my reading pile, I finally read it, and I was so glad that I did. Blood Read Road takes place in a brutal post-apocalyptic future, where dust storms have buried “wrecker” societies (vestiges of our current high tech society) under mounds of dirt and sand. It’s a violent, brutal society, one that has been pushed past desperation, into raw survival mode. Seriously you guys, it’s like the whole SOCIETY is in the middle of their own personal Hunger Games. Saba, her beloved twin brother Lugh, her younger sister Emmi and her father live way out in the dustlands, where they have basically no communication with anyone else. Their mother died giving birth to Emmi and Saba has never forgiven her younger sister for it. But when Lugh is kidnapped and their father is killed trying to stop it, Saba and Emmi start out for the city, to rescue him. Once there, they find themselves trapped as well, and realize Lugh’s kidnapping is part of something huge.
Saba is quite possibly the crankiest, meanest heroine I’ve encountered. She makes Katniss look like Miss Congeniality. She’s vicious towards Emmi, and makes it no secret from her sister early on that she wouldn’t be going to this much trouble if Emmi, rather than Lugh had been the one who had been kidnapped. She’s ferocious and brutal, as much towards the people who try to help her as the people who try to harm her. And yet, despite all that, I cared so much about her. Take this line, which shows how solitary she really finds herself, and the strength she manages to find anyway:
We’re on our own. An I feel calm. It seems crazy . . . but I’m calm. Because now I see what I gotta do. An what I ain’t gotta do, which is waste time thinkin that anybody’s gonna help us. That somebody’s gonna come along an rescue us. I cain’t count on nobody but me.
I am in love with Saba’s prickliness. But I also love that we see her grow in a plausible, genuine way throughout the course of the book. She has to learn to count on others, and to value others. Whether it’s Emmi, or her friends, or Jack – this is a huge part of her Slatebreaking journey. We know she’s tough. And raising her emotional awareness, she doesn’t become any less resilient, she simply becomes more fully fleshed out and determined. And throughout her journey, she comes to realize she needs other people. It’s not because she’s weak. It’s because she’s stronger with people who care about her behind her.
We also see Emmi growing up throughout the book. Not that a nine-year-old should ever have to “earn” the love of her sister, but Saba isn’t the only one who goes on an emotional journey throughout this story. As Saba thaws towards her sister, we see Emmi emulating some of Saba’s best qualities, starting to grow up into a fiercely determined young woman in her own right. And when the two sisters start to recognize and appreciate one another – well, I just defy you not to both tear up and pump your first in the air in triumph. This passage just about ripped my heart out:
She kneels up an takes my hand We’re gonna find Lugh. I know it. We’re all gonna help you. Me an Ash an Epona an Jack.
You would of bin safe with Mercy, I says, pullin my hand away. You should of stayed there, like I told you to.
I know, she says. But I’m stubborn. Like you.
We look at each other. Then we smile.
Yeah, I says. I guess you are at that. Listen Em, I….I’m sorry. I know I ain’t bin very nice to you. I don’t mean nuthin by it, you know that don’t you? It’s jest…I’m worried about Lugh. Worried that…maybe we wont –
I know, she says. I worry about him too. Jest like I worry about you. I couldn’t hardly stand it back in Hopetown when you was fightin in the Cage. Every day I was so afeared that you’d die an leave me.
I wont’ leave you, I says. I promise. I sigh. I’m gonna try to be a better sister to you, Emmi.
It’s okay, she says. You don’t hafta. I’m kinda used to you the way you are.
As I mentioned, the Free Hawks totally deserve their own spin off series. This amazing band of female renegades, led by the brilliant and determined Maev are quite possibly the coolest group of characters I’ve discovered in YA lit so far. I love that they exist, but even more I love the way that they truly teach Saba what it means to rely on your friends, and how you can be stronger with the support of others. The idea that you can count on others to protect you as you would protect yourself is new to her, but the Hawks give Saba the first real experience of counting on someone other than Lugh.
Romance is far from the central theme of this book. But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least touch on the relationship that grows between Saba and Jack. Watching them snap at each other, save each others’ lives and fall desperately in love was dynamic and downright sexy.
This is the first in a series, and I can’t wait for the next one.
Reviewed from library copy.