Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Silence is Not Golden

The Silenced by James Devita
4Q 3P/ J S

Wow. I just finished this book and even though I have two other books I should be writing about first, I need to write something about this one now, while the feelings are still fresh.

Wow. Talk about an atmospheric book. There are some books you don't want to stop reading because they're so good. There are some books you have to stop reading, even if you don't want to, just to give yourself a chance to breathe and your heart to stop pounding. I put this book down at least six times because I needed a break. I couldn't stand the tension or the fear of what I thought/knew was coming. I needed to do something mindless for a while, so that I could give myself a chance to process what I'd read and what was coming.

No long summary here. In a nutshell, this book takes place in an unspecified future time in an unspecified country (but I still read it as the U.S., though that may be U.S.-centric of me). A war was fought within recent memory, and the Zero Tolerance party is now in power. We're not talking about zero tolerance for teasing, or zero tolerance for drugs, or zero tolerance for weapons in the schools. We're talking about zero tolerance for tolerance. Zero tolerance for individual thought. Zero tolerance for different religious beliefs. Zero tolerance for deviation from the official government line. Zero tolerance for different. In the initial phases of the new government, many of those who fought or protested were "neutralized" - government-speak for killed. But it wasn't enough to hold those people responsible for their actions. Their families are held responsible as well. The families have been sent to readaptation communities all around the country. Suspect spouses are put on house arrest, while the children are re-educated in schools that are nothing more than indoctrination facilities.

Marena is one of those children. She only has brief flashes of memory of what happened the night her mother was taken, but she can remember what her mother believed. And one of the things her mother believed was that you do not have the right to stay silent when evil is happening around you. Marena is already resisting in as many ways as she can: she mouths the words of the anthem and the loyalty oaths they are forced to repeat, she refuses to give up her precious paper, pens, and papers when writing implements are outlawed, and she refuses to believe what she is told to believe. But when a favorite teacher is taken away and a new and stricter administration is brought it, Marena knows that it's time to take a harder stand. She convinces her would-be boyfriend Dex and the new boy, Eric, that it's time to actively rebel. They slash tires. They vandalize the school with slogans. They spread leaflets. They spread the word: The White Rose will not be silent. But their rebellion comes at a very high cost.

Any similarities to the Nazi regime are completely intentional. This book is a tribute to Sophie Scholl, her brother, and the other members of the White Rose resistance group, who fought the Nazis with pamphlets, leaflets, and graffiti, spreading the idea of resistance throughout their university and beyond. It's also, I think, a protest against the people in our own country right now who insist that voicing objections to actions of our political leaders is nothing short of traitorous. But if the people don't remind their government to have a conscience, then we open ourselves to nightmare scenarios. Sophie Scholl, Nelson Mandela, and Marena could testify to that.

Lest I have made this sound like a book that only those of a political bent could enjoy, let me assure you, it is not. Despite its length, I think many teens who don't really like to read could get caught up in this one. Rebellious teens fighting against the authorities. Questions about who you can trust (can you even trust your own father?). Midnight trysts and post-midnight illegal actions. Short, cliff-hanger ending chapters. This is a compulsively readable book that will have many readers riveted to the last page.

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