Today is Celebrate Teen Literature Day where we celebrate the Young Adult (YA) genre and the reading opportunities it offers teens and adults. Chebk and I have returned to the YA genre with the advent of this blog, hoping to explore diversity in this age bracket in particular. We’ve had a lot of disappointments tempered by some wonderful surprises, such as Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe or the upcoming None of the Above.
Keeping up with the many YA releases is harrowing, but it seems to be a good gauge of what readers are flocking to and which premises peak their interest most. One of the more highly anticipated YA books of 2015 has been at the top of many lists for months now: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. (Which you can enter to win a copy of by leaving a comment here!)
Red Queen follows pickpocket Mare Barrow. She is jobless, unskilled, and living with the rest of the poor Red citizens in her rundown village. Her world is divided into Reds and Silvers: the workers and servants living in the dirt and being sent to the frontlines of war, and the elite ruling class gifted with inherent superpowers ranging from superhuman strength to controlling the natural elements (fire, earth, water, metal, etc.)
In an effort to save her childhood friend, Kilorn, from mandatory conscription into the army (only those with jobs can avoid it), Mare ventures into the Silver world only to wind up masquerading as one of them in plain sight. A series of mishaps lands Mare into the lap of royalty, engaged to a crown prince, and always a second away from someone finding out that she not only grew up among Red citizens, but that she is one herself, through and through.
Right off the bat, let me just say: The diversity in this book is negligent to non-existent, which is extremely disheartening considering the story’s basic premise of societal divisions. However, where the story’s summary didn’t exactly grab me (we’ve seen this rags-to-riches, internal seething over inequality before), Aveyard’s writing did.
A trend in YA writing that I have noticed is the tendency to favor story and action over word choice and style. For fast-paced books like The Hunger Games or Divergent, we are not meant to notice the writing so much as the content. Aveyard is a writer’s writer, using lush descriptions and choosing her words carefully to set scene, tone, and character. She evokes the muck and mire of the Stilts, Mare’s hometown, just as effectively as the sterile, beautiful, and terrifying palaces and marketplaces that belong to the Silver nobility:
“Gisa guides me past a bakery with cakes dusted in gold, a grocer displaying brightly colored fruits I’ve never seen before, and even a menagerie full of wild animals beyond my comprehension. […] A few streets over, a jewelry store sparkles in every color of the rainbow. […] The air seems to pulse, vibrant with life. Just when I think there could be nothing more fantastic than this place, I look closer at the Silvers and remember exactly who they are. The little girl is a telky, levitating the apple ten feet into the air to feed the long-necked beast. A florist runs his hands through a pot of white flowers and they explode into growth, curling around his elbows.”
Inevitably, there are some strains of YA dystopian stories that have come before, and the comparisons are unavoidable. In particular, Red Queen evokes The Hunger Games with Mare treading the same impoverished background and smart-mouthed territory as Katniss Everdeen. She similarly resists the trappings of noble luxury and fights for the equality of the lower classes, held under the thumb of the ruling rich.
The Silver superpowers are the saving grace in Aveyard’s case, providing an interesting background for the Silver’s sense of superiority and the ease with which they are able to subdue the Reds. I found it interesting that Aveyard divided powers by bloodline: the men in the royal family are able to control fire, and the queen’s line is one of whispers, or those who can breach thoughts and control individual’s minds and bodies. Each ability is given a categorical name, such as magnetrons for those who manipulate metal, or telkys for the telekinetics who can move objects with their minds.
Going into the book, I had no idea it was part of a series, but it looks like it’s shaping up to be the usual dystopian revolution we’ve seen before a la Divergent, Young Elites, Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and the rest of the gamut. Still, Aveyard’s command of language and the stellar action she provides through the superpowered fight scenes has very promising potential. Mare is a very able protagonist and I look forward to seeing more of the battle between Red and Silver.
Rating: 4/5 potatoes!
Don’t forget to enter to win a copy of Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen or I.W. Gregorio’s None of the Above (which will be reviewed on April 28) by leaving a comment at this post. It’s as simple as that! Happy Celebrate Teen Lit Day!