Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Malley, Gemma. The Declaration (4 out of 4 stars)
I have always been a fan of dystopian literature. In high school, classics like Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, Zamyatin’s We, and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 were my royal road to imagining what could go wrong with society as a precursor to dreaming about what could go right. Since I do not particularly like blood and gore in my books, dystopian lit became my scary books, my Stephen King. Young adult dystopian literature was scarce in the 1970s, but it is now very common. In fact, Gemma Malley’s first YA novel The Declaration is reminiscent of one prominent collection of works, Haddix’s Shadow Children series, without being too derivative because the author adds a medical twist not present in Haddix’s more Orwellian work.
Anna has no other name but the name assigned to all unwanted people: Surplus. Living in Grange Hall in the year 2140 with others like her, Surplus Anna is convinced by the stern, cruel headmistress Mrs. Pincent that her parents are evil and grossly irresponsible for conceiving her: “‘Of course I hate them . . . the Declaration was introduced for a reason and my parents abused Mother Nature’s benevolence. They make me sick’” (65). Since the drug Longevity was invented, people can now live virtually forever, but that has created such an overpopulation problem that the Declaration had to be established to prevent those on the drug from having children. Violators of the Declaration are sent to jail and their children are either taken to surplus halls like Grange or “put down” if necessary. The surpluses are taught to be Valuable Assets (mostly housekeepers and servants) and return their debt of life to society, as outlined in the Evening Vows: “I vow to serve to pay my dues / And train myself for Legal use. / I vow to bear the Surplus shame / And repay Nature for the same” (92). Surplus Anna is a Prefect and is set to become a Valuable Asset for some Legal family; her only vice is that she keeps an illegal diary (a la Winston Smith) in which she shares her thoughts. Everything proceeds as expected until a new Surplus named Peter arrives and turns Anna’s world upside down. Peter tells Anna about an Underground Movement that fights the system that keeps Anna and Peter enslaved. He describes using computers, traveling, eating good food, even feeling guiltless: “The truth was that Peter was a window through which Anna could glimpse the world outside, and the temptation to keep looking was quite overwhelming” (62). When Peter’s true intentions are discovered and he is placed in grave danger, Anna must decide if she is willing to risk everything she has earned for an uncertain, but free, future.
When I began The Declaration, I groaned at what I thought was a Shadow Children clone. However, Ms. Malley takes an entirely new approach to the question of overpopulation and green living, and her medical-miracle-turned-nightmare resonates loudly in this age of Western overconsumption without consistent scientific superiority. The invention of a drug that cures all disease but creates another entire set of problems is a satisfying twist on the standard “be careful what you wish for” plot, and Ms. Malley writes with a voice that feels believable enough for her purpose; Anna’s change throughout the novel is set up appropriately, and the excitement in the second half of the novel is maintained well. The Declaration by Gemma Malley is a fine first novel; I look forward to her next book, whether or not it is a sequel, which is entirely possible within the context of the story.


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