RED RISING – Making YA Dystopia Fresh

-posted by Meghan

51txswPUCWL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_You’re totally over the dystopic YA genre, right?  How many times can people try and rip off the (brilliant and successful) Hunger Games formula:  love triangle, oppressed world of the future, girl that saves the day by becoming resourceful, tough and selfless?  Each series seems to get less successful, or more clearly written to cash in on a current trend.  So perhaps you’ve given up.  Moved over to reading something else for your (or your students or kids) YA fix.  Like the Game of Thrones type “ye olde kingdom” series  (some are among the best series out there today, like Tamora Pierce’s Trickster series, Maas’ Assassin books and A.C. Gaughen’s Scarlett books that take on Robin Hood mythology).  Or Steampunk, which if you haven’t read any of that genre, is a super fun different world (Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy or Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series are good starting places…).

But… before you vow not to see the world through dystopic glasses again, we have a new book you’ve got to read.  Red Rising by Pierce Brown.

Here’s a synopsis that won’t give anything too important away – it takes place in the future, a future where due to lack of resources, we’ve colonized Mars.  The world there has been divided into color castes – from lowly Reds, who mine the precious substance that society runs on deep below the surface of the planet, to Golds, who run everything.  But much like in the Hunger Games, even the higher castes are made to fight to the death for their place in the pecking order.  Guess what caste our hero, Darrow, belongs to?  If you’ve read a single YA book, you know he’s a Red, and that he’s going places and will be a leader in a revolution.

But soon the similarities stop, or at least the plotting and characters get so good, so nuanced and detailed and real that you don’t mind if it is a familiar formula.  Darrow is happy to be part of the society he lives in.  He’s married to the love of his life.  He’s good at what he does.  He’s complacent.  So when Eo, his love, dies, he begins to fight.  Because he has no reason not to.

He is resurrected and remade into the image of a Gold, and sent to the Gold academy to fight for a place in society.  This fight has shades of Lord of the Flies, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, Percy Jackson and Roman mythology.  Yet because Darrow, and the friends he makes, the allusions feel like meeting old friends in the pages, not like a rip off.

Anything else we can say will either give too much away (and there are surprising twists and turns, violence galore, and heartbreak that will leave you reaching for tissues) or risk turning off readers by endless comparisons.

Go get this book – we think it’s one of the best in YA in the last several years, and certainly one of the best debut novels in a very long time.  Then come back and tell us your thoughts.  Derivative or divine?  Let us know!


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