51 pages 1 hour read

Marie Lu


Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2011

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Summary and Study Guide


Legend is the first book in the titular book trilogy by Chinese-American author Marie Lu. Originally published in 2011, Legend is a dystopian novel that explores topics of love, family, fascism, civil disobedience, inequality, propaganda, poverty, and hope in the face of an oppressive government. Lu was inspired by the classic Victor Hugo story Les Misérables and wanted to explore a similar cat-and-mouse dynamic in a futuristic setting. Just like the law-abiding policeman Javert pursued the noble bread thief Valjean, so does the military prodigy June pursue the handsome and elusive Day. The story is told in the first person, with chapters alternating between Day and June’s points of view. Legend is a New York Times bestselling novel, and although it was published at the height of the dystopian novel explosion of the early 2010s, Legend has persisted as a remarkable novel worthy of attention. The version used for this guide is the paperback of the SPEAK imprint of Penguin Random House.

Plot Summary

In the future, America has split into two halves: The Republic rules the Western half, and the Colonies rule the east. In the Republic, children are required to take a test known as the Trial on their 10th birthday. During the Trial, a child’s reading, writing, speaking, and physical capabilities are tested, and they are assigned a score that determines their future. High-scoring children are rewarded with luxurious lifestyles, while those who score low or fail face a dark fate in the labor camps or on the streets.

In the Republic city of Los Angeles, 15-year-old Day failed the Trial when he was 10 but narrowly escaped his fate and lives on the streets with his 13-year-old companion, Tess. Plagues frequently break out in the poor sectors of Los Angeles, and Day learns that his younger brother has contracted a mysterious strain of the virus. Day breaks into a hospital hoping to steal plague medicine for his brother but has to make a quick escape to avoid being captured. During his escape, he throws a knife and hits a young captain named Metias in the shoulder. He flees, thinking that he only wounded the man, and he loses his father’s pendant in the process.

June is the only person in the entire Republic who earned a perfect score on her Trial, and she lives with her older brother Metias. Her parents died when she was young, and now June dreams of joining the military and capturing the infamous criminal Day. However, her dream becomes personal when she is told that her brother was killed by Day during a hospital break-in. Fueled by rage and heartbreak, June vows to chase down Day and avenge her brother’s death.

June goes undercover and ends up running into Day and Tess. She spends a few days with them, and at first, she doesn’t know that the handsome boy from the streets is Day. Day and Tess are trying to find enough money to buy plague medicine for Day’s brother, but medicine is expensive, and the odds aren’t looking good for the little boy. June and Day begin to fall in love, but one night, June realizes that the boy is Day when he reaches for something at his neck, and she thinks of the pendant found at the scene of Metias’s murder. June is conflicted and confused, but her loyalty to the Republic and her fallen brother wins out, and she turns Day in. During a dramatic standoff with the military, Day’s mother is murdered, and he and his brothers are taken into custody. Day is shocked to learn that the girl he trusted betrayed him, and June doesn’t understand why she feels no sense of happiness or relief at Day’s capture.

As Day awaits execution for his crimes against the Republic, June begins to do her own investigating. Through a series of conversations with Day, unusual details about his Trial score, and the discovery of Metias’s secret blog, June realizes that the country she thought she loved has committed horrifying atrocities against its people. June learns that the Republic kills children who fail the Trial, uses the people living in the poor sectors as test subjects to try out its lab-created plagues, and even organized the deaths of Metias and her parents. June discovers that Metias was killed not by Day but by a subordinate soldier under the government’s orders. She also discovers that Day didn’t fail his Trial after all. Rather, Day is the only other person who got a perfect score on the Trial when he was 10. June decides to rebel against the Republic and help Day escape before his execution.

With help from the rebel group, the Patriots, June rescues Day out of prison, and they escape from Los Angeles. However, escape comes with a price. June is now a traitor and can never return. Day’s older brother is killed during the escape, and his little brother—still sick with the plague—has been taken away to the warfront for some reason. Day’s companion Tess is with the Patriots, and at the end of the novel, Day and June agree to head east to look for Day’s little brother and Tess.