The Declaration by Gemma Malley
|The Declaration by Gemma Malley|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A tense and dramatic novel speculating on life in a future where drugs have banished old age and death. Mostly for teens, but the quality of writing is such that thoughtful younger children could approach it too.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: May 2008|
My name is Anna and I shouldn't be here. I shouldn't exist.
Not the sort of thing you'd expect a happy child to say, is it? It's the year 2140 and old age is a thing of the past. A new drug called Longevity has banished illness. Nobody dies any more. But there's always a downside. Longevity has put even more strain on the world's dwindling resources and a Chinese-style one child per family policy isn't enough. In this speculative 2140, childbirth is illegal; unless you opt out of immortality - and you have to opt out by the time you're sixteen - you aren't allowed to have children.
But of course, people break the law. And Anna is the result. Anna is a Surplus, an illegal child. Some countries euthanise Surpluses, but not Britain. It sends its illegal children to Surplus Halls - think Oliver Twist in the workhouse, and your mental picture is about right - to be trained as servants to the immortal legals. Some things never change. Anna has been thoroughly indoctrinated. She hates the people who gave birth to her. She understands that she is worthless, less than nothing, fit only to serve. And then one day Peter appears at her Surplus Hall. He is defiant and refuses to accept his status as a Surplus. And he says he knows Anna's parents...
The Declaration knocked me for six. It's ever so, ever so, ever so good. The press sheet says it has echoes of Brave New World and The Handmaid's Tale and indeed it does. And of course, the issues it raises are very contemporary. If we can't feed the six billion people on Earth now, what will happen as medical advances increase lifespans even further? If everyone is old, what will happen to the children? Is procreation a human right? Should a child ever be responsible for the actions of its parents? Already, an increasingly old population looks upon the young with increasing hostility and suspicion. What would happen if the old never died? The many issues The Declaration raises makes it an engrossing read.
But what really impressed me was the writing. It's elegant, flowing and precise but it's never pretentious. The book is deceptively simple to read with direct sentences and not a word wasted. It sustains tension and at moments the action is absolutely heart-stopping, yet at moments its poignancy brings tears to the eye. In trying to think of a comparison I'm torn between the straightforwardness of someone like Benjamin Zephaniah or the one-off perfection of C S Lewis - and either would be the ultimate compliment as far as I'm concerned. This level of writing makes the book, despite its sophisticated and complex themes, perfectly accessible to thoughtful readers of late primary age as well as the teenagers for whom it's intended.
Highly, highly recommended.
My thanks to the nice people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.
Escape from Genopolis by T E Berry-Hart also deals with the twin issues of genetic manipulation and climate change.
The Declaration by Gemma Malley is in the Top Ten Dystopian Books For Children.
The Declaration by Gemma Malley is in the Top Ten Beach Reads For Teens.
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