Like most people I’ve bought a lot of new books in recent months. However, instead of reading any of my new purchases I have taken a trip down book memory lane. I spent a week revisiting one of my favourite series The Declaration trilogy by Gemma Malley. Reading it got me thinking about the young adult Dystopian era (I’m classing it from about 2009-2014). There are four months between the publication of The Declaration and the publication of The Hunger Games. One of these trilogies was significantly more successful than the other. I am obviously talking about The Hunger Games. What did The Hunger Games have that made it tower over other dystopian series of the time, and more importantly what does The Declaration lack?
*Spoilers to follow for The Declaration and The Hunger Games *
For those who’ve not read The Declaration it is set in a version of the 22nd century which has developed a drug called Longevity. Longevity prevents death but doesn’t stop the aging process. People also continued to have children but with no-one dying the world soon became overpopulated. As a result the Declaration was brought into action. To take Longevity you must sign the Declaration and not have children. Like most dystopian novels people continued to have children, these children are known as “Surplus” and live in Surplus halls as they train to be fit to work in the outside world.
That is where we meet our protagonist Anna, a 15 year old Surplus, who has been living at Grange Hall (a Surplus Hall) since the age of two. Unlike the resourceful, streetwise Katniss, Anna is meek and submissive – a typical damsel in distress. It was only when reading it again Anna’s lack of agency and inability to make her own choices is glaringly obvious. When new boy Peter comes to Grange Hall, he reveals to Anna that he knows her parents and is with The Underground, a group determined to end Longevity and restore the circle of life.
Anna goes from being brainwashed to believe that she has to pay for her parents decision to bring her into the world, to following Peter blindly. Compare this to Katniss, who is already aware of the problems in her world, already has the making of a rebel. Most importantly her relationship with Peeta does not define her.
Growing up I loved the image of Peter swooping in to save Anna. It was romantic. I now see the more problematic side of that relationship. However, I don’t believe this necessarily makes The Declaration a bad trilogy.
As the series continues Anna comes into her own. Malley’s writing improves and it has a lot more social commentary. The series deals with overpopulation, and the consequences of it (destruction of rainforests and deserts). Lack of fuel, food and resources.
The final book The Legacy deals with a virus that causes a worldwide pandemic (something that reads differently in 2020). The virus is caused by Longevity suppressing people’s immune system. The novel ends with the end of Longevity and Surplus Halls, as the world essentially starts again.
Personally, I found the conclusion of The Declaration much more satisfying than that of The Hunger Games, I do, however, understand that The Hunger Games is much more appealing to a young adult audience. There’s the love triangle between Katniss, Gale, and Peeta, the games, and of course the dramatic overthrowing of a dictatorship.
The Declaration is much more subdued. The overthrowing of the regime doesn’t come from the young people, it comes from nature. At age 18 Anna is a mother to two children (one her own and one her younger brother). It is a lot less exciting and daring than Katniss’ role in the games and the revolution.
I still love The Declaration trilogy, but I do now understand why it was The Hunger Games that defined a period of books and films. The first book in both series were published four months apart. They could have been rivals (think Harry Potter vs Twilight), but The Hunger Games pulled ahead.
The publication of The Hunger Games began the dystopia frenzy, and the final film signified the end of that era. The possibility of The Declaration being adapted into a film (or TV series) is well and truly over (The Divergent series didn’t even finish their films). But I do hope that more people give The Declaration a chance. It’s a great read and will take you straight back to the young adult dystopian hay day.
Words by Orla McAndrew
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