What if there was a drug that allowed you to be immortal? Would you take it, even if it meant you would not be allowed to have children? Would you opt out, even if that put you in the tiny minority? How would society deal? How would they treat those children who are still born to parents that are immortal? How would a society of adults over the age of 40 react to youngsters? How would they justify living forever?
Surplus Anna lives in the Surplus Hall, the "home" for those that Mother Nature doesn't want. Those children who are born outside of The Declaration. Created by selfish Legal parents, who are now in prison for their crimes. But Anna is a Valuable Asset and therefore might make something of herself someday, as a good servant in a good household.
That is, until Peter enters her life and challenges everything that she has known to be true. He tells her that her parents really did love her and wanted her. That they sent him to find her. That she's not unwanted and that they aren't the surplus population, that instead it is the adults who have outlived their welcome on the planet.
The Declaration was a stunning book that I just couldn't put down. I was never quite sure how it was going to end, yet when I got to the ending, it was exactly how it should have been. I enjoy societal challenges and questions, so I found this book to be a great exercise in what ifs. How would a society truly react to immortality? It would be tough, there would have to be population control and energy control, and I thought Malley did a great job of bringing up and answering these questions.
I was left with some questions by the end of the book. I wasn't quite sure how long people had been able to be immortal for and why they had to make the decision at the age of 16. Part of the problem, of course, is that the narrating character isn't privy to this knowledge and it didn't really bother me as I read. Malley did address why they didn't just put in birth control drugs with the longevity drug, but I also wondered why they didn't sterilize people who signed The Declaration. My personal theory is that, while they may call these children Surpluses, they also need them for the slave labor they provide. When people live forever, doing menial tasks becomes even less appealing.
Overall, this book is a great discussion starter, the kind of book that you might be forced to read for school, but actually enjoy. If I had kids I would probably put this on their required reading list, just because it challenges you to think about life in a new way. The question of immortality is a hard question. I really want to have kids one day, I love working with kids and enjoy the challenge of shaping young minds. Still, the idea of death terrifies me, and I think if I could still have one child, this would be an easy decision. But to never have a child and instead live forever? That's not a question I can come up with an easy answer to. And in the book, it's a question that people are asked at the age of 16 - that's when they have to decide if they are in or out. Which doesn't exactly make sense though, since the history in the book seems to say that society realized very quickly that even one child was too many. Maybe it refers to the people who were children when the drug first entered mainstream usage.
A great aspect of the immortality drug was that people may stay alive, but they don't stay young exactly - their skin still sags and plastic surgery is still a necessity. Instead, the organs seem to stay young, but the outer shell is aging. Also, Malley addressed nicely how afraid of death immortality has made people. One character helps out Anna with her eventual escape, but immediately flips when the Catchers (people who bring in the Surplus children) threaten her with death. The idea of death becomes even scarier when you no longer think that it will happen one day.
Back to the story, though. Anna is an interesting character and you see the world through her changing eyes. She starts out basically a brainwashed slave. Through Peter's interactions, though, she makes her first friend, falls in love for the first time, and experiences other firsts, some as simple as having her mother hug her for the first time (well, that she remembers). Anna is a good character to see this world through and is a great medium for Malley to tell the story.
I do wonder if the story is really over though, and I hope Malley will revisit this world. It felt like Anna's tale could be considered over, but there is obviously a lot of change that will be coming to this world in the near future. There were other story threads left unfinished and I'm curious to know will happen in the near future, as the world seems to be on the edge of revolution.