Here is the first chapter of my new YA novel, Blight. I thought I’d already posted it here, but I looked and can’t find it. Very odd. Please let me know what you think! Thank you. ~JR
by Jessica Rising
The ancient word hangs in my mind as I kneel in the dirt. My fingers, chalky with dust, working slowly. Carefully. I can’t afford another mistake. Already the rocky ground is littered with broken bits of metal, cracked cogs and de-twined springs. Here and there, peppering the mess, shiny bits of white glass reflect the low light from outside.
That, I broke on purpose.
Even in the beginning there were only two of the fragile globes. The most important pieces. But I had to know how they worked, and the glass cover hid the details inside. I’d had to sacrifice one to understand the other.
A pointless sacrifice.
I lift up the uncovered innards to study them again in the faint light. The tiny bits are as mysterious to me now as they were when I’d first killed the Knight, three days before.
The bottom is curved around and around like the hand drills we use in the quarry, only much shorter and fatter. Above, surrounded by a jagged lip of the broken glass that had covered them, two tiny metal wires stand up side-by-side, connected at the bottom by a small cube of clear glass. Another wire runs along the top, connected back to the glass cube by even thinner, springy wires.
I’ve studied it for days, at every angle, but it still makes no sense. Both globes worked perfectly when I saw them focused on me within the hollow eyesockets of the Knight, blinding me with their bright glow. But they’d gone dead with it. I haven’t been able to make them glow since.
Frustrated, I pull my book out of its secret pocket in my robes. Something hits my knee. I look down to see its sister has followed it. I’ve had both books for as long as I can remember and known they were dangerous for just about as long. Books are heresy against Bask, outlawed in the Under. Nobody here can read.
Nobody except me.
I don’t know why I can read. Neither of my parents can. Nobody I know can. I don’t remember learning how, I just always have. Just like I’ve always had the books.
I pick up the second book. It’s smaller than its sister, thinner, with a brown cover that almost matches my robes. I’ve always wanted to read it but I can’t. The lock on its side keeps its secrets well hidden.
I put it back in my pocket and focus on the other book, the one I can read. A little bigger than my open palm, its title is 8th Grade Physical Science. I’ve read it so many times I can almost recite it word for word, but I still understand so few of those words. I open it to a wrinkled page with a picture of a bulb. My lips move as I whisper the caption under my breath.
“Electricity is a force created by a difference in charges due to gained or lost electrons. Electricity flowing between two points is called an electrical current. In order for these electrons to flow, there must be a difference in charges between the two points. Electricity always flows from a location with a negative charge to a location with a positive charge.”
Words. So many words, so little sense in them.
I stare at both bulbs — broken and whole, and bite back a scream of frustration. It’s right here. RIGHT here. Light for the Under. Freedom for my people. So close, but so impossibly far away.
The small cavern where I kneel vibrates to the long, low toll of a bell.
The waking-bell. And today is Atonement. I won’t have another chance at lighting up our darkness for another whole day.
Now, anyone who knows me knows that I’m allergic to bandwagons. I tend to break out in hives and cold sweats and some odd and rare strain of turrets that involves me spewing words like “shallow”, “lemmings” and something akin to “brain-rape”. However, every once in a while, I see one that I actually want to ride. “The Hunger Games” is my latest.
Now, before you tell me the obvious, yes I know I’m a little late for this ride. But for someone who didn’t jump on “Harry Potter” until the original book had been out for over a decade, I think I’m doing pretty good here. So cut me some slack. Geez!
Actually, originally I only bought the first book in the “Hunger Games” trilogy in order to do some research for my own writing. After all, when you are writing a middle grade post apocalyptic dystopian novel, and there’s a young adult series out that is the same genre and is doing so crazily well that nobody can imagine the world before it existed (okay so I’ll concede that’s a strech, but not a huge one), it’s probably a good idea to read that series. For those that are not in the know about this, middle grade generally follows young adult for what is popular. So… you get the picture as to why I bought “The Hunger Games”.
However, that does not explain why I bought “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay” the moment I was finished with the book before them. Considering that I am a full time student and planning and paying for a wedding in June, I do not spend money frivolously right now. But with books like that, you have to get the next one as soon as possible. It is not a choice. It must be done.
Where do I begin in explaining why I love this trilogy so much? Maybe it’s the post-apocalyptic dystopian setting of which I am an obvious fan. Maybe it’s the depth and breadth of the characters, whom you actually care about before they have to die terribly. (Damn you, Susan Collins!) Maybe it’s the social commentary and hilarious irony of them making movies of the books. Or maybe it’s because, with these books, both Susan Collins and society in general are giving a big old fat middle finger to the flawed idea that children these days must be protected from all negativity.
Yes, these are young adult books and not children’s. And no, my own books do not have that kind of violence in them. However, in the publishing vernacular, “young adults” are teenagers, which means they are not yet adults. And in the real world it is teenagers who often have to deal with the harshest realities. Maybe not quite as harsh as having your name picked at the reaping, but still far from the perfection many fiction stories would have you believe. In Katniss, young readers see a picture of themselves. No perfection, despite what society might cover them in. No peace, despite what society might say of their lives. Just a harsh reality they have to somehow survive. And maybe, if they’re lucky, they will still retain their humanity on the other side. If they make it that far, anyway.
So, yes, “The Hunger Games” deserves all the hype it has gotten. And I will not only ride this bandwagon, I would drive it if they’d let me. Bravo, Ms. Collins. And thank you for returning dignity to young adult authorship and literature.
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