Release date: 2nd June 2011
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Scholastic
Blood Red Road is dystopian, dark, apocalyptic teen fiction told in a first person present tense narrative.
I came to be reading this book outside of my usual book selection framework. I heard the author speak at a librarians’ conference in June. Back then I thought it sounded really interesting but there was so much going on with the end of term. Then I went through my whole “If I see another dystopian book, I may go mad” phase and I’m still suffering from this affliction. Trends do nothing to excite me about children’s literature and I don’t want to encourage them. So how then did I come to be reading this book? Well it was selected for my writing class group read and like a diligent school girl; I just had to read it. I always do my homework. But I suppose I was reading it in a different way rather than just reading for pleasure.
Saba and her family live in the deserted dusty region of Silverlake. The area has been drying up and times are hard. The Wreckers of the world have long gone and survival is tough in this drought-ridden place. Saba’s Pa hasn’t been the same since their mother died but lately he has been even less attentive, instead he looks to the stars for answers and believes the rain will come. Saba’s twin brother Lugh is her joy and she would follow him to the edge of the world, she’s happy to live in his wake. Emmi is Saba’s younger sister and a curse in her eyes. Lugh is the glue that holds the family together but then one day a band of horsemen stampede into Silverlake and abduct him. Saba does the only thing she can do; she sets out to find him.
The story is told entirely from Saba’s perspective. It is a first person narrative and it’s unusual in its telling because Saba has her own unique way of explaining things. Words are often not full or spelt correctly. “And” is not “and” but rather “an”. There are hundreds more examples of Saba’s idolect. At first glance it is alienating but you soon get into the rhythm of her voice. Consequently, if a single sentence doesn’t fit how you expect Saba to say it, you really notice it. Or I did anyway, but I was looking for these deviations in voice because Moira Young had taken such a bold decision in her way of telling the story.
I want to talk about Young’s use of the present tense: a startling choice and another brave one. I keep asking myself what the story would have been like in the past tense and I can’t see that it would have been all that different. I wonder why she made this choice. Did she feel that we must go with Saba for every step of the journey? Did she not want us to feel that Saba would reach her goal? I’m really not sure. I hope my writing teacher will shed some light on it.
The plot of this book is excellently executed. The twists are well timed and I absolutely believed that Saba needed to find Lugh more than anything else. It wasn’t because I was concerned about what would happen to Lugh but rather that I knew how much he meant to Saba and that was important. It was Saba’s emotional bond to Lugh that was constantly driving the story forward. There was only one point in the story where things slowed and I felt less involved. Without ruining the story for you, Saba finds herself kept in a cage and without other characters for her to interact with, I was bored and asking myself how long would she be stuck there? But soon after, Young introduces a new character and the action picks up and doesn’t stop until the end.
Blood Red Road is a great read. It certainly had me on the edge of my seat and convinced by the main character’s narrative. This book is not your average dystopian doom and gloom novel. It is more of an adventure, more of a return to the wilderness days of bandits and highwaymen. I really enjoyed it.
Thank you to Scholastic for sending the book to review.