Legend, a page-turning if formulaic debut novel by 27-year-old writer Marie Lu, is the latest addition to the overflowing shelves of dystopian teen fiction.
It's getting more attention than most debuts because the movie rights have been sold — with a producer from the Twilight franchise attached.
First in a planned trilogy, it's set in the future amid the ruins of Los Angeles in the Republic of America (pop: 20 million). The Republic is at war with the Colonies that are east of a no-man's land stretching from the Dakotas to West Texas.
A mysterious plague is killing people, while Elector Primo is starting his 11th four-year term as president. Talk about political dynasties.
It's a have and have-not society that even the most radical of today's Occupy Wall Streeters would have trouble imagining.
A government exam, called the Trial, is given to kids at age 10. High scores send you to high school and college. Low scores mean a job in the water turbines, or worse. The kids from the "slum-sector" usually score the lowest.
Lu's best twist is to employ two good-looking, 15-year-old heroes as alternating narrators.
June is the Republic's favoite prodigy, who boasts that she's the only student who has ever scored a perfect 1500 on her Trial. Or, as she puts it, "I don't just think I'm smart." Better yet, she proves to be remarkably open-minded.
Day is the Republic's most-wanted rebel, seemingly uncatchable, known for scaling a five-story building in less than eight seconds. He's out to protect what's left of his family, but that means taking on the Republic.
But if the rebels had speechwriters, Day could use one who employed fewer clichés.
He's attracted to June, who "has never looked more beautiful than she does now, unadorned and honest, vulnerable yet invincible. When lightning streaks over the sky, her dark eyes shine like gold."
The action, however, is fast-paced and cinematic. Inevitably, Legend will be compared to The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins' best-selling trilogy that ignited teen interest in dystopian fiction. (The movie based on Collins' first book is out in March.)
Over three books, Collins spun a rich story about revolution and romance. Lu has just begun. Her challenge is to turn June and Day into full-fledged characters — people you can imagine in a world that's hard to imagine.