Like most people, I loved The Hunger Games. (Team Peeta, thank you very much.) I loved the flawlessness of concept in book one. I loved the focus on inter-generational teamwork and the stirrings of uprising in book two. And I loved the complexities of war and grief in book three. The thing I loved most, though, was Katniss. The very first novel my littlest brother ever read for pleasure (he’s 15 and will be the first to tell you that he most certainly is not a reader) was The Hunger Games. He couldn't stop talking about it for weeks. I’ve never seen him so excited about anything before. And that's why I love Katniss: she's accessible; she flies in the face of all the cries about young boys not wanting to read about girl protagonists.
With all that said, though, The Hunger Games is not actually the book I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is another dystopian YA that I loved even more. A book that I think does what The Hunger Games does, only better: Blood Red Road by Moira Young.
There are a lot of similarities between these two dystopian stories. First of all, Saba (the protagonist of Blood Red Road) and Katniss are both initially motivated by their love for a sibling. They’re both thrown into circumstances they’re unequal to (essentially, extreme fight or die situations – Katniss in an arena, Saba in a cage). And they both get caught up in a revolution of epic proportions that aims to take down the powers that be.
While having a lot of similarities, though, the two girls are quite different. Katniss is cool and reserved and self-controlled, and while I love this about her, I found these things made it hard for me to relate to her. Saba, on the other hand, is passionate and vulnerable. While Katniss keeps her head down and does what she needs to survive, Saba goes in with her fists up. Saba is all heart and raw emotion and straight-up-in-your-face-fierce.
The other thing I preferred about Blood Red Road was the writing. Both books are told in first person POV. But while Suzanne Collins says it like it is with simple and lyrically-sparse prose, Moira Young is poetic and vivid and Saba’s unpolished voice makes her character and her world bright and alive. For example, this:
I cain’t speak. Cain’t breathe.
My golden heart is gone.
I kneel in the dust.
The tears roll down my face.
An a hard red rain starts to fall.
I watch what she does.
I learn fast.
She gives me a helluva beatin before I learn enough. Then I git lucky. I go at her with a flyin kick to the stummick that slams her hard aginst the bars an that’s it. She don’t git up till the keeper pulls her to her feet.
An it’s over. The end.
The end fer her. The beginning fer me.
They don’t tell me her name. There’s a little pink birthmark on her face. It looks like a butterfly.
Like the Cage Master says, it’s a shame when a good fighter goes down to the gauntlet.
But one of us had to.
An it sure as hell warn’t gonna be me.
See what I mean? Fierce.
Another awesome thing is that Moira Young is a Canadian living in the U.K. and Saba's world was written to be a kind of dystopian Alberta. Saba’s home of Silverlake is basically the prairies after an ecological apocalypse. Which ties in with the very last reason I prefer this book to The Hunger Games, and that reason is Jack. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Peeta and Gayle. But I didn’t like them the way I liked this guy. Jack is sassy and suave. He's a post-apocalyptic cowboy with mysterious motives, and the chemistry between him and Saba was pitch-perfect.
Also, there were no love triangles - at least not in book one. I can’t say the same about the sequel, however.
P.S. Read more about Blood Red Road here.