I read a book recently that haunted me. The Declaration by Gemma Malley follows the story of a young British teenager, Anna Covey, in the year 2140. This futuristic novel takes place after medical researchers have cured all sorts of common ailments like cancer, diseases, and even AIDS. Going one step further after curing disease, scientists have formulated a pill that stops the body’s aging process, allowing humans to live forever.
Because this pill, called Longevity, keeps the elderly (and everyone else, for that matter) alive indefinitely, the world population has skyrocketed, and the government has made procreation illegal in order to curb overcrowding and violence. Every citizen since 2080 has been forced to sign a declaration, which states that they will not bear children. Any child born to parents who take Longevity pills will be ripped away from them at birth, labeled “surplus” children, and forced to work off their parents’ “sins” at a Surplus boarding school while the parents serve prison sentences.
Surplus Anna has grown up as an illegal citizen at a school called Grange Hall. She hates her parents because she has been indoctrinated by her superiors, particularly the head-mistress Mrs. Pincent, to believe that her parents did her an enormous injustice by conceiving her illegally and forcing her to live outside of the law. When Peter, an older surplus boy arrives at the school, one who has been kept hidden by an underground movement of rebels all his life, Anna is stuck watching after him and teaching him the Surplus doctrine of obedience and submission. However, Peter has other plans. He tells her that he knows her parents, that her name is not Surplus Anna—it’s Anna Covey, and that he has come to break her out of Grange Hall. The majority of the novel follows the adventures of Anna and Peter as they risk their lives to escape from slavery and fight for ordinary freedoms such as conversation, looking people in the eyes, owning simple possessions such as journals, and seeing the world outside the confines of gray cement walls.
This book, as a young adult fiction novel, was a fast and suspenseful read. I loved Anna’s journal entries to which the readers were privy, and I felt like these few-and-far-between entries were much better than the prose sections, which did not feel youthful enough. Malley wrote with a strong sense of urgency, and her political platform occasionally got in the way of the beautiful language she clearly was capable of. Even with Malley’s tendency to over-write the controversial sections (probably trying to hammer her point so as not to be misunderstood), the novel held my attention and gripped my heartstrings. My heart broke for Anna’s misinterpretations of the world and her place in it, and I became emotionally attached to her wellbeing.
My favorite line that described Anna was, "The girl had always looked like she willingly carred the weight of the world on her shoulders and still thought it wasn't enough of a burden" (210). Sound familiar, anyone? Now you know why I enjoyed it.
I recommend this novel for anyone who enjoys utopian/dystopian novels or futuristic adolescent fiction. Malley’s Anna is a far cry from a Judy Blume or Lois Lowry teenager, but she has a beautiful heart and longs for acceptance in a cruel world. I can't wait to read the sequel!
My rating: 4 stars