All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Declaration – Gemma Malley

Imagine a world where no one ever dies. Old age and illness are no longer a problem, you can stay a youthful 40 or 50 for all time. So long as you keep taking the magic Longevity drugs that is. Naturally with pretty much no one on the planet dying anymore, some adjustments have to be made. Overcrowding and use of energy and resources are massive problems, so citizens must sign The Declaration and have no children. Anyone who breaks this rule and has a child anyway –  the child is deemed illegal, a Surplus and sent to a facility where they are to be trained to be Useful. Being Useful or being a Valuable Asset is how they must make up for the fact that they never should’ve been born. They are trained to be servants to the Legal’s, to reduce their consumption, their impact on the overcrowded Earth. And naturally, they don’t get the Longevity drugs.

Fifteen year old Anna is such a Surplus. Taken by the Catchers when she was just over 2, she has been living and training at Grange Hall under the watchful malevolent eye of House Matron Mrs Pincent. Anna is determined to be a good Surplus, to become a really Valuable Asset and make up for her Parents Sins in having her. She is classed as Pending, almost ready to go out and take up a position with Legals, ready to try and make up for the gross error that is her very existence. Her parents are nothing but a disgrace to her now. They are taught at the Surplus Houses to hate their parents for breaking the rules, for bringing them into the world when they shouldn’t be there, for burdening the Legal population even further. Anna cannot remember a time when she wasn’t supposed to hate her parents. She bears the shame of being a Surplus and the only way she can make up for that is to be a very Valuable Asset.

All is well in Anna’s world until fifteen year old Peter is brought to Grange Hall. He has just been Captured, having survived out there for longer than most. He claims to Anna that he knows her parents, he uses her last name when speaking to her (Surplus children don’t have last names as they are nothing and should not exist). He tells Anna that he’s here for her, that he can take her away from Grange Hall and back to her parents, who love her and miss her and have been trying to figure out how to find her for all these years. That there’s an Underground Movement, hiding Surpluses, trying to fight the regime, trying to fight for the right to exist. At first Anna resists, not willing to believe him. But soon, she can’t help her curiosity and she is asking him questions about the outside. When she learns something sinister about Mrs Pincent, Anna decides that she is going to go along with Peter’s escape from Grange Hall and try and find a better life on the Outside.

Could you give up the right to have children in order to live forever? For some it might be an easy question either way. For those that can’t give up the desire to have a child, you can Opt Out – that means not signing The Declaration. You get to have a baby but you don’t get the Longevity drugs. You forfeit your right to immortality so that the resulting child is not as much strain. As stated in the book though, not many people choose to Opt Out. The authorities make it hard for people to do so, and for many, the lure of being able to exist forever but without the negatives of old age and illness is too attractive. Also the choice must be made at 16 whether to Opt Out or sign The Declaration. That seems like a tactic by the authorities to ensure more signatures, particularly males as it’s not likely that many 16yo boys are going to feel passionately about having children. By giving people the choice before they are really old enough to make it, while they are still young, impressionable and easily malleable seems a surety that almost all people tow the line and sign The Declaration. Opt Outs are looked down upon, and pitied as they age and get sick.

I’ve read that some believe that although they are ridiculed and belittled and harrassed, it can be argued that the Surplus children are a necessary part of the society because of the service they provide. If you’re going to live forever, you’re probably not going to want to be doing your own cooking, cleaning, ironing, gardening, etc for all eternity and these Surplus children are really nothing more than free slave labour to do all of that. They have no rights, no freedoms, not even a last name.

The control that the authorities have is absolute, even over the Legals – even over the Legals that are high ranking. When questioning a Legal on the disappearance of Peter and Anna, they threaten her with incarceration for up to three months just for questioning and withholding of the Longevity drugs. What that does to a person within about 10 weeks is really quite horrific. It’s the kind of authority that makes not co-operating with them on anything at all a death sentence. And the Catchers, employed to track down Surplus children have powers that far exceed those of the normal police force. It is not unusual for a Surplus from one of the Halls to escape and not make it back due to “force” used by the Catchers when they are tracked down.

The way the Surpluses were treated was I think, the most jarring thing in this book. The level of abuse and degradation that they are exposed to on their journey to become Valuable Assets is really quite mind-boggling, especially in the case of the Smalls. The Smalls are the children captured below 2yrs of age. They all live on one floor and Anna mentions quite often that the incessant noise of the Smalls crying penetrates into the girls dormitory rooms of a night. The Smalls are taken care of in that they are fed probably just enough to live and clothed but they are never held or played with, lest they ever think that anyone loves them or cares for them.

The sight of a two year old comforting itself  by rocking silently on a mat, or a three year old gently banging its head against the floor was more than she could stand. She had been that three year old, she realised.

That kind of cruelty towards children, whether they were supposed to exist or not, was pretty hard to take. After all, it’s not the children’s fault that they exist. They didn’t ask to be born. But they are punished far longer and far harder than most of the parents that decided to break the rules and have them. They are subjected to a lifetime of cruelty and service with their only chance the slim one that they might maybe get a kind Legal to work for.

This novel was a nice, easy, quick introduction to my YA Dystopian Challenge. I read it yesterday afternoon, laying on the couch in the sun – our first really beautiful spring day! Doors and windows open, shorts and bare feet. It was a imaginative work and even though there were a few little plotholes, I learned when I reached the end of the book that it’s the first in a series so I won’t say think much about them as it’s quite possible that they’ll get resolved in the subsequent books! I certainly enjoyed this book enough to try and track down the rest of them, after the rather dramatic ending I am very interested in what happens to Anna and Peter.


The Declaration, by Gemma Malley is Book #1 of the YA Dystopian Challenge hosted by Darren over at Bart’s Bookshelf! The challenge runs from 1st October – 19th December and has a couple of different levels.

1 down…3 to go for me!

(Book #69 of my 75 Book Challenge)