One of my favorite reads this summer was Marie Lu’s Legend, a dystopian novel set in a futuristic Los Angeles. Legend differs from other recent dystopian novels in that it has two appealing main characters, one female and one male, who are balanced in their importance to the story. Day, the male protagonist, is a scrappy rebel whose score report from the Trials was one of the all-time lowest, disqualifying him from a meaningful role in the Republic’s society. June, the female protagonist, nailed a perfect score on her Trial, assuring her of a powerful place in the Republic hierarchy. June and Day become adversaries when their family members are threatened. That’s all I can say. Anything else would bring us to Spoilerville. Legend has an excellent pace, surprises along the way, and comes to a conclusion that is both satisfying on its own merits but anticipates the other books in the series.
Brief digression: Our local library is incredible for a thousand different reasons. This summer the teen librarian designed a Pass the Book program featuring Legend. The library purchased several dozen copies of Lu’s book and distributed them to any teen in the community who wanted one. The only stipulation was that the teen readers should register their copies of the book online and pass them along to someone else when they were finished. The Pass the Book program culminated in a visit last week from Marie Lu who made the trip to Illinois from her home in California.
Marie was funny, friendly, interesting, and appealing in her 75-minute presentation. When I told her that some of our students had read Legend and written blog posts about it, she remembered visiting our Ning and sending out a Tweet about those reviews.
Marie began her presentation by asking the 40 or so teen readers in the audience if any of them were writers, and a lot of hands went up. She asked what they like to write, and a common answer was fan fiction. Marie said that she wrote a lot of fan fiction when she was younger too.
Then she told her story—how she wrote fantasy stories when she was young, struggled with agents and publishers, and she offered advice to young writers: “You can’t be afraid to write bad stuff in the beginning.” I was surprised to learn that the title Legend and the follow-up title in the series—Prodigy—were chosen by the publisher. (Prodigy hits the shelves in January, 2013, but I’m sniffing around now for one of the scarce ARCs that I know are out there.) Marie said that although she can’t yet reveal the title of the third book, she wants everyone to know that she chose it, not the publisher.
When q-and-a time came along, I was really impressed with the caliber of thoughtful questions. One audience member asked Marie if any parts of Legend were based on her own experience. Marie said, “The Trials were directly inspired by the SATs. I thought they were life and death.” When asked why she chose Los Angeles as the setting for Legend, she said, “LA is already a little dystopian, so it wasn’t too hard to imagine it as more dystopian.” With The Hunger Games DVD release only a couple of days away at the time of her visit, Marie was asked if she was Team Peeta or Team Gale. She prefaced her answer by saying how much she admired Suzanne Collins and the Hunger Games series, and then said, “Team Peeta. He can make cupcakes!”
When asked if she knows what’s going to happen in her books before she even starts writing, Marie explained that novelists are either “Plot-ers”—those who write lengthy outlines before crafting the chapters—or “Pants-ers”—those who write by the seats of their pants and fix up any continuity problems in the editing stages. Marie says she is a Pants-er.
The final part of the library program with Marie Lu was a challenge to the young writers in the audience to finish a short story that Marie had started. Each audience member was given a copy of the first few paragraphs of a story by Marie Lu. Then she read it to them, and gave teens about ten minutes to work on what might come next. A few of the writers read their creations, and Marie was gracious in her praise of their impressive work.
Marie Lu’s visit to Arlington Heights Memorial Library last week was another clear example of how author visits are powerful motivators for developing readers and writers. Although I’ve played a role in bringing more than 200 writers to our school, I definitely learned some new ideas last week from this session with Marie Lu.