Title: The Declaration
Author: Gemma Malley
Publisher: Bloomsbury (UK & USA)
Publishing Date: May 2008 (UK)/ August 2008 (USA)
Paperback: 320 pages
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a two book duology.
Summary: (from amazon.com)
It’s the year 2140 and Longevity drugs have all but eradicated old age. A never-aging society can’t sustain population growth, however…which means Anna should never have been born. Nor should any of the children she lives with at Grange Hall. The facility is full of boys and girls whose parents chose to have kids—called surpluses—despite a law forbidding them from doing so. These children are raised as servants, and brought up to believe they must atone for their very existence. Then one day a boy named Peter appears at the Hall, bringing with him news of the world outside, a place where people are starting to say that Longevity is bad, and that maybe people shouldn’t live forever. Peter begs Anna to escape with him, but Anna’s not sure who to trust: the strange new boy whose version of life sounds like a dangerous fairy tale, or the familiar walls of Grange Hall and the head mistress who has controlled her every waking thought?
Chilling, poignant, and endlessly though-provoking, The Declaration is a powerful debut that will have readers agonizing over Anna’s fate until the very last page.
Ana: The Declaration has been on my radar for quite a while now, as I see it in every book shop I go to and I had it in my hands numerous times before I actually bought it. The funny thing is: I was purely attracted to the combination of Title and Cover and had no idea that it was a dystopian story (bad Ana)! As soon as I realised what it was about, I enlisted Thea to read it as well, given how she is the Dystopian fiction expert around these areas. Bearing in mind that I haven’t read a lot of dystopian fiction, I did enjoy The Declaration, only not as much as I thought I would. I love the premise, I love the thought-provoking issues that it raises but the writing was a let-down, unfortunately.
Thea: The Declaration is a book I probably never would have heard of if it wasn’t for Ana. It’s a British book from a British author, and I hadn’t seen it in a single bookstore here (as it’s also a few years old, I probably would not have heard of it online either). BUT, when Ana sent me the link to the title, I was instantly hooked. In a dystopian future where all illness is cured, and the secret to immortality has been discovered, what could possibly be wrong in the world? Well…overpopulation. When no one gets sick or dies, procreation is taboo – and those disgusting, resource-wasting children that are born are deemed Surpluses, who must be Dealt with. This is the premise of The Declaration, and I was chomping at the bit. And you know what? Though the writing isn’t of the caliber of other YA dystopianists like, say, Lois Lowry, The Declaration is a damn fine, thought-provoking book. And I really, truly enjoyed it.
On The Plot: In the 22nd Century, with the advance of genetics and stem cell research all the diseases have been cured and the secret to longevity discovered. Human beings no longer die and the entire world is populated with people who live forever, if they take the drug supplied by the governments. In the beginning, people carried on having children but soon the world’s resources proved to be not enough and thus, reproduction was banned. Citizens must sing the Declaration in which they agree not to have children unless they choose to Opt Out – a life for another: the Child will be Legal and given the longevity drug and one of the parents will follow the natural course of life and eventually die. However, some people choose to have both longevity and children and those are seeing as criminals and the children are Surpluses who are eventually taken from their parents.
Surplus Anna is one of them. A 15 year old girl who lives in Grange Hall, a place where Surpluses are taught that their very existence are a crime against Mother Nature unless they learn to be Valuable Assets. She believes that her parents are Irresponsible Criminals and that she must atone for their Sin. She does so by being the perfect indoctrinated good Surplus who Knows Her Place. A Surplus become a Valuable Assets by knowing how to Behave and Bow to Legals in every situation.
But one day, a boy named Peter enters Grange Hall and Anna’s life and he brings her a present: a surname and a history. She learns she is Anna Covey and that her parents always wanted her and that there is a whole world out there with an Underground Movement. Peter invites Anna to escape Grange Hall but can they do it?
Ana: The Declaration has a very interesting and thought-provoking premise: that one day science will be so evolved that no one will ever die. Even though there hasn’t been an apocalypse per se, humanity stands on the brink of one, as the worlds resources are so depleted in order to keep everybody alive. The main idea of this book goes far beyond a simple dichotomy between science and nature with the inversion of these conceptions as ideals: in a totally warped frame of mind, everybody thinks and deeply believes that living forever is what nature intended and procreation is against its laws. And it doesn’t take long to happen either, this complete acceptance and brainwash which raises questions about human’s fear of dying for example.
In that sense, this book is brilliant in its bleakness in portraying humans and even more so in the portrayal of the Surpluses who have been brainwashed so deeply as to embrace their lives without ever . One of the bleakest passages I have ever read is the one where Anna narrates how every night in the girls’ dormitory, the children have time to play a game in which one of them is chosen to be a Surplus, who willingly will suffer any number of humiliations that another child, playing as a Legal can think of inflicting.
Anna’s existence is one of routine and that is only broken by one shred of defiance in the form of a diary she keeps hidden. Until Peter comes along and throws her world upside down. Soon, she is not able to deny any longer that her life is nothing more than a bunch of lies starting with the one she believed above all: that her parents were selfish, self-indulgence people with a complete disregard against the world.
My enjoyment of such interesting story and premise was marred by the writing though. The prose relies far too much in telling than showing with stilted sentences and a lot of info dump. One can argue that the stiffness of the writing is an apt format to relay the stiffness of Anna’s life but it did not come across to me as a choice but rather as the writer’s style and one that did not appeal to me.
I also thought the pacing was a bit too uneven with a slow start with a lot of information being relayed and then all of a sudden things pick up in a whirlwind towards the ending when the book takes a turn into a thriller. I much preferred the latter part of the book and had glimpses of a really great novel even if some of the events were a little bit too conveniently placed in order to tidy up the plot.
The outcome, to me, is a book that does not quite live up to the great premise. It is not a bad book by any means but it could have a been a much better one.
Now, a word from the house expert:
Thea: Ok, truth be told, I do have to agree with Ana concerning the writing style. Though Ms. Malley has some wonderful ideas and a premise that is pure gold from a dystopian-afficionado’s standpoint, there is a lack of grace, of subtlety or metaphor when it comes to the writing. Alternating between Anna’s occasional journal entries (which unfortunately do read as slightly juvenile) and a third person limited narrative, there were altogether too many data-dumpy sections (i.e. “I am a Surplus. That means I don’t deserve to live because the Declaration that was enacted in 2076 said that all babies are wrong and stealing from Mother Nature, etc, etc, etc”), lacking any writerly finesse. Instead of being revealed gradually throughout the story, these plot details were explained in the plot by Anna’s journal or her repetitive inner dialogue.
That all said, these weaknesses were minor in the overall effect of the novel. The premise, as I’ve mentioned above, is superb. Ms. Malley takes the ultimate mortal dream of immortality, seizes it with both hands…and she turns it into a grotesque parody of everything we as humans hold dear. We often dream about finding the Cure for cancer, for AIDS, for any number of human ailments and diseases – but the ultimate “illness,” our ultimate human flaw is our very mortality. Once that has been cured, everyone should be blissfully happy, right? As Ms. Malley explores the dream of living forever, she shows how terrifying such a goal actually is – governments start to actually care about the environment because they are the ones who will be stuck with the Earth forever; poorer countries are cut out of energy deals in exchange for Longevity (the drug that enables humans to live forever, so long as it is regularly taken); and, of course, youth is anathema – change is bad, stability in the hands of those who have been in power for generations is paramount. The human condition is revealed to be one of selfish power hunger, which isn’t too far off.
Ms. Malley has a keen eye for cause and effect, and she explores the repercussions of living forever and reveals each of these factors beautifully as the story progresses. AND she also leaves a lot of room for the sequel in the series by some nice foreshadowing techniques. Ms. Malley’s world in The Declaration does not exist in some static bubble, as she does indirectly poses the question: Where do Longevity drugs come from in the first place? Stem cells are alluded to, as well as a thriving black market for the best drugs – because Longevity has its drawbacks on the appearance of the human body. Also, the question I kept asking myself was WHY were Surpluses taken care of and so indoctrinated? The reasons posed in the book do not quite seem sufficient to cover the significant monetary and time costs of raising them and brainwashing them. There has to be some other reason for keeping Surpluses, and I think it has nefarious roots that will be examined further in the next book…
Not only was the world building impeccably detailed and realistically grounded, but the plotting of the novel itself is fantastic. Unlike Ana, I do not think the book dragged in the slightest – rather, it started slow, mimicking Surplus Anna’s mechanical, brainwashed existence in the home. When Anna “awakens” from good-Surplus-zombie mode, she is angry – and simultaneously, the book ratchets up the action, danger, and drama. I thought the ending was extremely dramatic. Yes, things do ultimately wrap up a little too conveniently for Anna and Peter, but at such an unspeakable high cost, I was fine with it. In fact, I loved it.
On The Characters:
Ana:Except for Anna, I wasn’t overly impressed with the characters. In fact, writing this review only a few days after I finished the book, I am having a hard time remembering them – never a good sign. Anna for the most part was a believable character – someone who was deep into the system, so completely indoctrinated, almost being the poster-child for the Surplus who Know Their Place. However, there is still a shred of humanity in Anna – can it be truly wiped away? – in the small, tentative ways in which she keeps her memory of the time she spent working outside as a maid and the in the diary she keeps hidden. There is a great dichotomy that is the heart of the problem: even though what she writes is basic repetitious propaganda, she the very fact that she writes and keeps the diary goes against what she is writing about. In that sense, there was deep down, a seed that needed only some water in order to grow: and that came from Peter.
Peter was a rather one-dimensional character, too good to be true and unwavering in his dedication to Anna – or to his idea of Anna. I thought it was bit unbelievable that he got himself sent to Grange Hall on purpose because he dreamt about having a friend. On the same note, the villain, Mrs Pincet was so Evil and Devious as to be almost boring. I was glad to see a sign that there was more to her but that came far too late. AND saw the twist coming from a mile away.
The character that stood out the most for me was Sheila. The girl who was born a Legal and by a mistake, was stripped of her status and sent to Grange Hall. Her arc was chilling and very well done.
Thea: As with the plotting and worldbuilding, I found the main characters of The Declaration to be just as well-written. Anna, the sometimes narrator and protagonist of the story, begins The Declaration as the best Surplus in Grange Hall. She’s dedicated to her role in life as an unworthy detractor from humanity, and will work as hard as she can to work off her unforgivable sin of being born. I loved that at the beginning of the book, and for much of the story, Anna is not rebellious or questioning at all – she’s firmly indoctrinated in the role she has been assigned as a worthless Surplus. Even when Peter arrives at Grange Hall with his truths about the outside world and Anna’s parents, she refuses to believe him, so brainwashed is she. And isn’t that how it would be? Prisoners that become so used to their cells, they do not feel safe in the outside world; slaves who have been told they are worthless for so long come to believe they are less than their masters. I liked that Anna was resistant to the idea of change, and though I do appreciate that ultimately she did come around to believing in Peter (and in herself), even if it was a bit hasty a transformation for my tastes. Still, even when Anna believes that she might be able to find her family and live on the outside a full life, her narrative is tinged with self doubt and believable reluctance.
As for Peter, he’s more of the traditional hero you expect in these dystopian young adult novels – he’s the firebrand that longs to stick it to The Man, the rebel that won’t stop until the Declaration is torn down and Surpluses seen as the people they are. He’s passionate and emotional, contrasting with Anna’s meekness, and it makes for a great dynamic. The relationship between these two characters might be predictable (of course they fall in love), and again a bit rushed for my tastes, but it still worked even if it lacked the emotional subtleties I so desperately wanted.
The other characters varied in their effectiveness. Of the secondary cast, Anna’s mother and father were fantastic, heartbreaking additions to the story, and of the children in Grange Hall, Sheila I think was convincingly drawn. A girl who has insisted since being brought to Grange that she is a Legal, that her parents Opted Out of the Declaration , her transformation is a chilling one and probably one of the best written in the book. Then of course, there are the villain characters – in particular, Mrs. Pincet. She’s predictably Evil (yes, capital “E”). There’s a bit of explanation towards the end for why she is so soullessly cruel, but even that feels somewhat forced. There is potential with her character though, so I’m hoping for a little more delicacy and depth in the next book.
Final Thoughts, Observations and Rating:
Ana: The Declaration is not quite what I hoped it would be – it may well be that, because I am not that keen on dystopian novels, it did not engage me completely. Still, The Declaration is a pretty good book overall, and with a kick-ass ending. It almost makes me want to read the sequel.
Thea: The Declaration has its considerable strengths, as well as unforgettable weaknesses. But the overall effect, in my opinion, was a positive one. Yes, the writing was prosaic and strained at times, but the ideas and the depth of Ms. Malley’s intriguing premise and incredibly realistic world building were enough in this reader’s opinion to offset the deficit. I enjoyed The Declaration, and I eagerly look forward to reading The Resistance.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
11 January, 2140
My name is Anna.
My name is Anna and I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t exist.
But I do.
It’s not my fault I’m here. I didn’t ask to be born. But that doesn’t make it any better that I was. They caught me early, though, which bodes well. That’s what Mrs Pincent says, anyway. She’s the lady that runs Grange Hall. We call her House Matron. Grange Hall is where I live. Where people like me are brought up to be Useful – the ‘best of a bad situation’, Mrs Pincent says.
I don’t have another name. Not like Mrs Pincent does. Mrs Pincent’s name is Margaret Pincent. Some people call her Margaret, most people call her Mrs Pincent, and we call her House Matron. Lately I’ve started to call her Mrs Pincent too, although not to her face – I’m not stupid.
Legal people generally have at least two names, sometimes more. Not me, though. I’m just Anna. People like me don’t need more than one name, Mrs Pincent says. One is quite enough.
Actually, she doesn’t even like the name Anna – she told me she tried to change it when I first came here.
But I was an obstinate child, she says, and I wouldn’t answer to anything else, so in the end she gave up. I’m pleased – I like the name Anna, even though my parents gave me that name.
I hate my parents. They broke the Declaration and didn’t care about anyone else but themselves. They’re
in prison now. I don’t know where. None of us knows anything about our parents any more. Which is fine by me – I’d have nothing to say to them anyway.
None of the girls or boys here has more than one name. That’s one of the things that makes us different, Mrs Pincent says. Not the most important thing, of course – having one name is really just a detail. But sometimes it doesn’t feel like a detail. Sometimes I long for a second name, even a horrible one – I wouldn’t care what it was. One time I even asked Mrs Pincent if I could be Anna Pincent, to have her name after mine. But that made her really angry and she hit me hard across the head and took me off hot meals for a whole week. Mrs Larson, our Sewing Instructor, explained later that it had been an insult to suggest that someone like me could have Mrs Pincent’s name. As if she could be related to me.
Actually I do sort of have another name, but it’s a pre-name, not an after-name. And everyone here has got the same one, so it doesn’t really feel like a name. On the list that Mrs Pincent carries around with her, I’m down as:
But really, it’s more of a description than a name. We’re all Surpluses at Grange Hall. Surplus to requirements. Surplus to capacity.
You can read a full excerpt of Chapter 1 online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: Book 2 in this duology, titled The Resistance continues Anna’s and Peter’s story.
The year is 2140. Having escaped the horrors of Grange Hall, Peter and Anna are living freely on the Outside, trying hard to lead normal lives, but unable to leave the terror of the Declaration—and their experiences as surpluses—completely behind them. Peter is determined to infiltrate Pharma Corporation, which claims to have a new drug in the works; “Longevity+” will not just stop the ravages of old age, it is rumored to reverse the aging process. But what Peter and Anna discover behind the walls of Pharma is so nightmarish it makes the prison of their childhood seem like a sanctuary: for in order to supply Pharma with the building blocks for Longevity+, scientists will need to harvest it from the young. Shocking, controversial, and frighteningly topical, this sequel to Gemma Malley’s stellar debut novel, The Declaration, will take the conversation about ethics and science to the next level.
You can read an excerpt from The Resistance online HERE.
Ana: 6 – Good. Recommended with reservations
Thea: 7 – Very Good
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