Hey everyone! Welcome to my brand new Chapter-A-Long project, where I dive into Legend by Marie Lu! This book has been on my TBR for a long time now, although I don’t know much about it. It’s a YA dystopian tale, which I usually enjoy. I’ve seen Marie Lu speak at YallFest several times and always enjoyed her, which is why I picked up her book in the first place. I’ve never done Chapter-A-Longs for a book I’ve never read before so I’m really looking forward to diving in!
A brief note: since this is a new read for me, please if you leave a comment, try not to include spoilers. I know nothing about this story and want to enjoy it from a fresh perspective.
Brief note #2: this book doesn’t look like it has traditional chapters (ironic that I’m using it for a “Chapter”-A-Long). Instead it alternates between the two main characters, starting with Day. I will use these breaks as my chapters for each post.
Part 1 ** The Boy Who Walks In the Light
This book starts off by telling us that we are in Los Angeles, California, in the Republic of America. So definitely some dystopian future America, since we do not call ourselves that. It also gives the population as being 20 million – not sure if that’s just for Los Angeles or for the whole Republic. For Los Angeles, that’s super high. For the country, that’s super low. Either way, I’m intrigued.
We meet our first character: Day. He first tells us that his mother thinks that he is dead and it is safer for her to think that. Also Day is a criminal. There are large screens in downtown LA that show his wanted poster, showing him charged with assault, arson, theft, destruction of military property, and hindering the war effort. I’m guessing they are at war with something called the Colonies.
There’s also anti-Colonies propaganda. “The Colonies want our land,” the ads declare. “They want what they don’t have. Don’t let them conquer your homes! Support the cause!”
So I’m guessing that the Republic is the western part of America, since we’re in LA, and the Colonies are eastern America, since that’s where the thirteen original colonies were? All this information is on the first page! I’m already hooked. Also interesting is that Day’s wanted poster always shows with a different photograph because they don’t know what he looks like. It’s why despite Day not being dangerous, he’s the most wanted criminal in the Republic because not being able to find him is embarrassing to them.
Day is hiding out in an abandoned apartment complex with his friend Tess. They are watching soldiers in gas masks inspecting homes down the street. There has been some sort of plague and the soldiers are marking homes that are contaminated. Day is watching a specific house – his family’s house. Tess doesn’t think they are home but Day sees light in the windows and knows his mom wouldn’t waste candles. He was also only supposed to check on them once a week, but has come every night this week so far. Clearly he is very worried about them and shrugs off Tess’s suggestion that maybe they should leave the city until the plague clears out.
They are interrupted by a scream from down the street, someone that the soldiers missed.
It’s a plague victim. She must’ve been deteriorating for months, because her skin is cracked and bleeding everywhere, and I find myself wondering how the soldiers could have missed this one during previous inspections. She stumbled around for a while, disoriented, then charges forward, only to trip and fall to her knees. I glance back toward the soldiers. They see her now. The soldier with the drawn weapon approaches, while the eleven others stay where they are and look on. One plague victim isn’t much of a threat. The soldier lifts his gun and aims. A volley of sparks engulfs the infected woman.
I like this paragraph because it brutally explains the situation they are in. Whatever this plague is, it sounds terrible. This lady was clearly suffering, and I too wonder how she managed to avoid the soldiers for this long. Maybe her family was hiding her and she escaped. It’s also pretty brutal that the only thing the soldiers can do at this point is kill her. I guess there’s no cure for whatever this plague is. No treatment. Just isolation and death.
Maybe this isn’t the best book to be reading during a pandemic?
Day comments on the guns that the soldier has, wishing he could have one like it. The guns themselves are pretty cheap and very technologically advanced. So much so that they have built in sensors that could give away the owner’s identity easily. Not good for Day. He and Tess continue to watch as the soldiers mark another door, this one belonging to a family that Day knows, whose kids he used to play with as children. If the soldiers are marking the door, that means that someone inside has the plague and no one else will enter or exit the home. It’s basically a death sentence for the entire house. Not good.
Tess asks Day about his bundle of goodies that he brought for his family. It’s mostly food, except for a pair of shoes and a pair of goggles. The goggles are for Day’s brother John, who is 19 years old and the only person in the family who knows that Day is alive. Also in the house are Day’s mother and his other brother, Eden, who is nine. It is Eden who Day is the most concerned for, and the reason why gives us more insight into this world and how it works.
Eden turns ten in two months, which means that in two months he’ll have to take the Trial. I failed my own Trial when I was ten. That’s why I worry about Eden, because even though he’s easily the smartest of us three boys, he thinks a lot like I do. When I finished my Trial, I felt so sure of my answers that I didn’t even bother to watch them grade it. But then the admins ushered me into a corner of the Trial stadium with a bunch of other kids. They stamped something on my test and stuffed me onto a train headed downtown. I didn’t get to take anything except the pendant I wore around my neck. I didn’t even get to say good-bye.
This reminds me quite a bit of Pawn by Aimee Carter. That dystopia was also built around a test that you had to take which determined your future. Day clearly failed his test and has turned to a life of crime, but he also outlines what happens if you don’t fail.
- A perfect score is 1500 – good Lord, is this the SAT? Is that what determines your future in this world? Egads! In any case, Day has only heard of one person who ever got a perfect score and he assumes that they were richly rewarded for it.
- Score between 1450 and 1499 – you immediately get to go to high school and then to one of the top four colleges in the Republic. Then you are hired by Congress and will make good money.
- Score between 1250 and 1449 – you still get to go to high school and then go to college (not a top one though). And apparently no guarantee of a career. Still not a terrible option.
- Score between 1000 and 1249 – sucks to be you. You cannot go to high school and you will have very little future.
It’s almost always the slum-sector kids who fail. If you’re in this unlucky category, the Republic sends officials to your family’s home. They make your parents sign a contract giving the government full custody over you. They say that you’ve been sent away to the Republic’s labor camps and that your family will not see you again. Your parents have to nod and agree. A few even celebrate, because the Republic gives them one thousand Notes as a condolence gift. Money and one less mouth to feed? What a thoughtful government.
A few things. Day hasn’t told us (yet), but I’m guessing his brother John was in the 1250-1449 range. He has a working class job and is still with his family. Not elite, but not a failure. I’m also going to make a wild guess that Day did not actually fail his Trial. He doesn’t seem like a stupid person. If he felt like he got the answers right, he probably did. I already don’t trust the Republic, so they may have had their own reasons for failing him on purpose.
Also, what happens to the poor shlubs who get less than 1000?
Day and Tess keep watching the soldiers, who are now five houses away from his family’s home. He finally sees them through the window and sees his mother coughing. That doesn’t necessarily mean she has the plague and the two boys at least seem healthy, if a bit thin. Day thinks about the amount of money he has stashed away, which is a decent amount, but not enough to buy the medicine they would need to recover from the plague.
The soldiers finally reach their door and are immediately let inside (otherwise the soldiers would have broken down their door like they did others down the street, but Day’s mom is trying to be compliant – maybe garner a little sympathy?). Day and Tess wait, but something is different. Something is wrong. The soldiers are in there for a really long time. Day counts the seconds to keep from going crazy and finally reaches an hour. It shouldn’t take an hour to give three people a blood test. When the soldiers leave, Day watches as they reach for their spray cans to mark the house.
The soldier reaches up and sprays one long, red, diagonal line on our door. Then he sprays another line, making an X.
I curse silently under my breath and start to turn away — but then the soldier does something unexpected, something I’ve never seen before.
He sprays a third, vertical line on my mother’s door, cutting the X in half.
What the heck does that mean!?!?! I guess I’ll have to wait until next week to find out, because that’s the end of the chapter. So far, so good. I am definitely wanting to see where this goes. It looks like next chapter will introduce our second main character, June, so we’ll see what happens then! Yay!