What You Need to Know: This YA Dystopian is the best contender for the "next Hunger Games" and an amazing book on its own, and one of my Best Books of 2011.
Summary: Saba lives in Silverlake, a small piece of (kind of) sustainable land carved out of the ever shifting dust that has taken over the world. She lives with her father, broken since the death of her mother, and her baby sister. Most importantly, she has Lugh, her twin brother and other half, who provides the hope and happiness in her life. When strange men ride up out of a storm and steal Lugh, killing her Pa, she swears she will find him. Saba sets off into the wastelands, and runs afoul of those who prey on travelers in the dust. Literally forced to fight for her survival, Saba discovers her own strengths and feelings she didn't know she had.
What Worked: Girl/Girl cage fights! Amazon-like warrior women! Bitchy heroine! Smug-Jackass love interest! Quasi-western setting! This book is practically Merideth-crack.
Young is an outstanding writer, who does an excellent job of creating a sympathetic but imperfect heroine. Saba is a fighter, but her single-mindedness in getting Lugh back makes her not terribly likable sometimes. Her devotion is admirable, but maddening.
Young weaves some slight touches of magic-realism into her story, with destinies being written in the stars*, and stones that will lead you to your heart's desire. These are very subtle, and add another layer of mystery to the book.
I've said it before, the best Dystopian fiction doesn't waste a lot of time telling us how things got this bad. Young doesn't tell us at all, choosing instead to focus on her story and characters.
And what a story it is. In addition to the already mentioned cage fights, there's a prison break, giant killer worms, a suicidal raid... lots and lots of action.
What Didn't: This book starts very slowly, and readers may be put off by the unusual patois that Young develops. Also, the magical elements of the book are an unusual touch for a dystopian adventure, and could be jarring.
Who would I give this book to? Teen fans of the Hunger Games. Adults looking for a good example of the dystopian trend. My brother (seriously, he's very picky).
There be spoilers ahead, so quit now if that sort of thing bothers you.
*So, if Saba's dad could read his children's fates in the stars, couldn't he have, you know, warned them about what was coming? "Oh, hey kids, by the way, when you turn 18, Lugh's gonna get kidnapped by this crazy, drug addicted cult, Saba will have to fight to the death and meet her one true love, who may or may not be entirely trustworthy and Emmi will become a slave. It'll all work out though. Just an FYI." However, this didn't bother me till after the end reading the entire book, so it might just be me.