James DeVita's The Silenced
Children's book review by Tracey Fortkamp
A young adult book about a dystopian future
Since George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, young adult literature has embraced, maybe even become obsessed with, the dystopian novel.
It seems we are fascinated with the idea of a future society that has deteriorated into a totalitarian, unfriendly, and often frightening place or maybe we just like to breathe a sigh of relief that our own society isn’t as bad as the ones depicted in these books.
However, if we really examine these dystopian themes, we would notice similarities between current societal structures and the ones portrayed in these books. One such book that draws on these similarities is The Silenced, by James DeVita.
The Silenced tells the story of Marena, a 16 year old girl whose country has recently come under the rule of the Protectorate, a totalitarian government created by the Zero Tolerance Party.
Emphasizing homogeneous thinking and personal appearance, the Protectorate restricts basic rights and freedoms and the idea of individuality is strictly forbidden.
The Protectorate describes this philosophy of Zero Tolerance as, “there is no room for YOU anymore, there is only room for US.”
Citizens are moved from their homes and settled into re-adaption communities to help them embrace the new order. Children are required to attend classes at training facilities to be schooled in this new “right-thinking” and any resistance results in behavior modification or neutralization. Marena’s own mother was neutralized for speaking out against the ideals of the Zero Tolerance Party.
Memories of her mother’s demise ignite Marena’s desire to rebel against the Protectorate realizing that she, like her mother, cannot remain blind to the oppression surrounding her. Enlisting the help of her two close friends, she starts a resistance group, the White Rose, to undermine the authority of the Protectorate. Soon, the White Rose is littering the training facility with flyers, vandalizing property, and encouraging others to speak out against the regime’s oppressive rules.
DeVita has created a believable and spell-binding story readers will find hard to put down, especially as Marena and the White Rose’s activities become exposed. Readers will also be left to contemplate the parallels between this story and historical events.
It is not hard to imagine people standing back while their government restricts civil liberties for the betterment of society. In fact, readers may find the Zero Tolerance Party’s doctrine for creating this oppressive society, “the state's first priority must be the safety of its citizens”, frighteningly similar to pronouncements of world leaders in history and current times.
The Silenced was inspired by the heroic story of Sophie Scholl and a small group of German students whose White Rose resistance group sought to expose the Nazi regime and their atrocities to humankind. DeVita was greatly impacted by Sophie’s story - making the important realization that,
“every time I do nothing when I see an injustice, it is me choosing to do nothing. It is not that I can’t do anything to help, it is that I choose not to.”
Not unlike Sophie and her friends (they were Germans and considered acceptable by the Nazi regime), Marena could have stayed quiet and learned to exist under the Protectorate’s rules, but after seeing friends and neighbors just disappear and other youth blindly collaborate with the authorities, she, like Sophie, refused to be silent.
The complex nature of The Silenced makes it a challenging read for those 12 years of age and older. DeVita has created a wonderfully readable novel that is not only intriguing, but may also lead the reader to contemplate their own world view. Paraphrasing the words of Benjamin Franklin, Marena eloquently reminds us “people deserve whatever government they are willing to tolerate.”
Read more of Tracey's reviews.
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