“We gotta trust in God and the law.”
This book is all about the setting. As Stephens starts the story, everything seems normal enough. We meet Blue (short for Bluebonnet, of course), who’s trying to navigate life at age fourteen. She’s embarrassed by her drunken father, embarrassed by her poverty, and just embarrassed – because fourteen. But readers soon learn that this is not the teenager’s life we know. For one, the kids have an armory at school where they check-in/out their guns each day before boarding their buses home. People aren’t stopped for carrying their guns in public places, they are stopped for not carrying. And anything that comes from America, not Texas – like orange juice, for example – has a heavy import tax so that only the wealthy can afford to have it. Cell phone and internet reach, naturally, are controlled for most Texans, because the leaders know best. Bless their hearts.
“I swallowed down my own stupidity, but it
stuck in my throat refusing to dissolve.”
I love the words and phrases Stephens chose that immerse the reader even more in the story and setting. Blue “piddled around” or found herself “screwing up the courage,” and of course ordering a tea at a restaurant means it’s delivered as iced, sweet tea. The description of Blessing, Texas, is familiar with its lay-out that could easily be any small-town, suburban Texas city. Since I listened to the audiobook and didn’t read with my eyes, I don’t know if Stephens uses eye dialect, but narrator Ashley Rose Kaplan uses g-dropping to help convey the Texas accent. That touch, along with Kaplan’s slow, soft, and lyrical drawl, perfectly fits with Stephens’s evocative writing.
Stephens doesn’t miss including any of the hot button issues that are plaguing Texas (and beyond) right now. She spins a set of believable, what-if scenarios of how life could be in a terribly wrong, not-so-distant future. Blue Running is a different kind of horror story. It’s especially terrifying for me because I know there are readers that think it’s not dystopian, but utopian Texas.
Reading Blue Running is sometimes super-stressful: the suspense! The danger! But it’s also a massive social commentary on the fine line we are walking right now, and it forces thinking, which may be uncomfortable for some. Stephens wraps up the book with a BANG (literally & figuratively) and in the Epilogue, readers are told what we need to know to be satisfied as we close the cover. But be warned: it also requires us to envision our own ending. There’s that thinking thing again.