I've read several great new voices in dystopian literature recently, and I can definitely add Gemma Malley to the list. In my opinion, The Declaration is one of the most ominous and impactful stories of this vein since Margaret Atwood's classic, The Handmaid's Tale.
In The Declaration, we meet Anna Surplus. Anna is a young woman who was never supposed to be born -- her parents conceived her selfishly and illegally, secretly bringing a new life into a crowded, resource-strapped world where Longevity drugs stop the aging process and allow people to live forever. Parents can only raise children if they refuse the Longevity drugs, essentially trading their child's future for their own.
Unfortunately for young people like Anna, their lives are a burden on the state. As Surpluses, they are not citizens and have no rights. Their one job at Grange Academy, a state home for Surplus children, is to learn to be Valuable Assets so they can one day be servants to Legals. Anna was brought to Grange Hall many years ago, when she was discovered and her parents were imprisoned for their crimes. Now, Anna is a model Surplus, fully indoctrinated by the government and ashamed of her own existence.
All that changes when a new Surplus comes to Grange Hall. Peter is much older than the usual new Surplus, and his whereabouts before his capture are a mystery. Plus, he claims to know Anna's parents, and has a dangerous plan for escape. But does Anna have the courage to overcome her guilt and years of programming and risk everything for a dangerous life on the run?
The Declaration is both a character study and a plot-driven adventure. Malley does a wonderful job of creating a narrator that changes dramatically throughout the novel, but through a gradual, subtle transformation. As readers, we see her changes most poignantly through Anna's secret journal entries, which reflect her inner conflict and the evolution of her change of heart.
One part love story, and one part coming-of-age story wrapped in a delicious dystopian wrapper, The Declaration is more than a futuristic, cautionary tale about science and government gone bad. Its characters are as special as its fantastic, imaginative plot. I'm so glad I stumbled upon it, and can't wait to get my hands on its sequel, The Resistance.
You've probably heard the sayings âall good things must come to an endâ and âlife is good,â right? Well, obviously life must come to an end. You don't need sayings to know that. But in this futuristic tale by Gemma Malley, the good life never has to end. Every legal 16-year-old gets to choose. So, what's the choice? Eternal life or a child. Just sign the Declaration and you're in â forever.
The problem for 15-year-old Anna is that she's not legal. She doesn't get that choice or any other choices because she's Surplus. All the children who weren't supposed to be born are Surplus. For Anna that means Grange Hall, a training facility, where she's being programmed to serve the âimmortals' until her short miserable life is over. She's been beaten, starved and brainwashed to believe that her parents were selfish to have her and that it would take her whole life to atone for their sins.
Then 16-year-old Peter gets dropped off at Grange Hall by the Catchers. But Peter's no ordinary Surplus. He's got confidence and spirit and all his attention is focused on Anna. He tells her he knows her parents and that they love her. He says he got caught on purpose so he can help her escape. He's definitely getting into Anna's head. Anna's life depends on her ability to continue her training without distraction but it's getting harder and harder for her to maintain her focus. What if Peter's telling the truth? How long can she suppress her hidden hopes and dreams for a real life outside of Grange Hall? Is this a trick? Is it a test to see if she's ready to advance in her training? Or could everything she believes in be one huge pack of lies?
The Declaration is a thought-provoking read and the way things are going now it may not be too far off from tomorrow's truth.
Reviewed by Natalie Tsang for TeensReadToo.com
C.S. Lewis, author of THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, once wrote that there are three ways of writing for children. The first is to cater to what children want (but people seldom know what they want and this usually ends badly), the second develops from a story told to a specific child (Lewis Carrol's THE ADVENTURES OF ALICE IN WONDERLAND, for instance), and the third is that it is simply the best art form to convey the story.
Gemma Malley's debut young adult novel, THE DECLARATION, is of the last category.
I am making this point because while THE DECLARATION involves two teenagers, fourteen-year-old Anna and fifteen-year-old Peter, it never feels aimed towards the teen audience Therefore it is categorized as a young adult novel by the age of its narrators rather than its content and this, I believe, will give it an enduring quality. C. S. Lewis wrote, "Where the children's story is simply the right form for what the author has to say, then of course readers who want to hear that will read the story or reread it at any age."
THE DECLARATION opens in the year 2140, and people have conquered death in the form of Longevity drugs. With limited food and fuel resources, waste has become a serious crime and the worst crime of all is having a child. Anna is one of these children. She is housed at Grange Hall where she and other Surpluses are taught that the most they can ever hope for is a harsh life of servitude to make amends for their existence.
Anna is well on her way to becoming a Valuable Asset when Peter arrives at Grange Hall. He challenges everything she has learned by arguing that people who take Longevity are the real criminals and perversions of nature, not the young. He also claims that he knows her parents and that they want her back. Peter is strange and new, but is he enough to make her risk everything to escape with him?
Unlike some novels that use characters, plot, and setting as a vehicle to drive home a message, Gemma Malley never lets the moral and ethical questions she raises detract from the actual story. The characters are well drawn and identifiable, and the language is simple and unpretentious. THE DECLARATION is not without flaws, especially the failure to explain or integrate Mrs. Pincent's involvement with the black market product Longevity+ into a major plotline, but this lends mystery and excitement for a sequel.
Even though it contains a handful of science fiction and young adult hallmarks, such as a utopia/dystopia setting, wonder drugs, and finding and defining oneself, it cannot be dismissed as merely a youthful 1984 knockoff. It is mostly a book about people, fear, and loss. Themes that are, if not always, exquisitely accessible in this age.