In the new Republic of Texas, guns are compulsory and nothing is forgiven. Blue Running is a gripping coming-of-age thriller set in post-secessionist Texas. A fast-paced, page-turning book, it looks unflinchingly at what the future could hold, and finds hope there.
In Blue Running, Lori Ann Stephens crafts a compelling story set in a Texas which is the Republic of Texas come to life and ramped up on steroids. In the new Republic, religious conservative values are law, yet criminal motorcycle gangs run rampant and run roughshod over anyone in their path. Arming oneself isn’t just a good idea, it’s the law for anyone 14 years or older. There are no more flights to America. No internet that connects to anything beyond the Republic. A wall has been put up to keep “Scalers” – illegal immigrants – out of Texas (and also to keep Texas citizens in?). Any Scalers that do make it over the wall and past the plethora of gun-toting guards are to be shot on sight. And since any goods that have to be imported from America are subject to a heavy tax burden, there are a lot of ordinary things that are out of reach of ordinary people, setting up a big divide between the haves and the have-nots.
Bluebonnet Andrews – Blue – is 14 years old. She and her hard-drinking deputy sheriff father live in Blessing, Texas. They’re somewhere south of the poverty line, and Blue is pretty much an outcast. When Maggie and her wealthy family move to town, for one glorious summer, Blue has a best friend. But when school starts and Maggie is snapped up by the popular crowd, Blue descends rapidly back toward her loner status.
When her gun accidentally discharges and Maggie ends up dead, Blue knows even her father can’t protect her. She flees, seeking America and the mother she barely remembers, the mother who supposedly abandoned her and her father years ago. As she’s scrambling to find a way out, Blue meets Jet, a pregnant Latin American immigrant who’s also seeking to escape the Republic. The girls pool their resources and head for the border together.
The story hits on some heavy topics, including racism, women’s rights, and human rights. One issue that stood out to me is the imposition of religious values as law. In this instance, it’s conservative Christian values that are enshrined in statute (and there are likely some folks in today’s society who think that would be the best thing ever). I’ve always said you can’t legislate morality, and that proves to be true here. Religion as law notwithstanding, the new Republic of Texas is a much more violent and lawless place than ever the State of Texas appeared to be.
Stephens creates a fascinating cast of characters, and most of them are out only for themselves. But even in the midst of fleeing for her very life, Blue finds a few good people still out there. When she and Jet make their way to Austin and the mostly free collective of artists called the Neighborhood, she meets Darnell. We don’t get a lot of backstory on him, but when Blue feels like she has to trust someone with her true story, he proves himself a friend in need and a friend indeed. So while things may seem bleak in the new Republic, people like Darnell demonstrate that there is still good left in people if we dig deep enough.
I won’t tell you how it ends. Go get you a copy of the book and find out for yourself. I’ll just say the ending leaves the reader with a lot to consider, and the epilogue left me with the Rolling Stones playing in my head: you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.
Stephens has written a gripping tale that is not a mere fantasy. Given the current state of politics, and given that there has been a faction arguing for some time (and still arguing) that Texas should revert to being a free and independent republic, the picture Stephens paints is one that is all too conceivable should a worst-case scenario come to pass. That’s some spine-tingling dystopian stuff right there, and should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone who’s ever said “there ought to be a law.”
Five stars, and well worth the read.
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Novelist, librettist, lecturer Lori Ann Stephens grew up in North Texas, where she developed an addiction to the arts. Her novels for children and adults include Novalee and the Spider Secret, Some Act of Vision, and Song of the Orange Moons, and her award-winning work has been noted by Glimmer Train Stories, The Chicago Tribune, and the English National Opera. She teaches Writing and Critical Reasoning undergraduate courses, as well as creative writing graduate courses, at Southern Methodist University. She lives in Texas and is a bit mad about her cat.