Gemma Malley Sixteen-year-old Anna should not have been born. It is the year 2140 and people can live for ever. No one wants another mouth to feed, so she lives in a Surplus Hall, where unwanted children go to learn valuable lessons . . . at least she wasn’t put down at birth.
One day, a new inmate arrives. Anna’s life is thrown into chaos. He says things about her parents and the Outside that couldn’t possibly be true . . . Or could they?
The concept for this series, for this is the first in a trilogy of books, is brilliant. Set in 2140, a drug called Longevity has been invented that allows people to live for ever. As a result the population of earth has to be controlled. If you choose to take Longevity you may not have children, you sign a Declaration to promise this. You can opt out, but why would you? Opt outs are seen as very peculiar and despised by society. Children have become something found in the history books. However there are people who break the rules. But if you are caught the consequences are devastating. Your child will be taken away and put in a Surplus Hall, for that is what children have become, surplus. In a society where waste is now the ultimate crime children are a drain on precious resources and very definitely surplus to requirements. But there are parents who want their children back.
Anna has been in a Surplus Hall for about as long as she can remember. She has been taught, in this brutal place, that she must pay for her existence. She shouldn’t be here and to make up for it she must learn to be useful so she can eventually serve the people who are allowed to be here (legals). Anna is a fantastic character. She is such an interesting mixture, she has plenty of fear of her environment, the Outside and doing things differently to the safety that she knows. But she is also brave looking after weaker people when she can. She has a rebellious streak hidden away that comes out in the form of her writing a diary. This is forbidden, a Surplus doesn’t need personal possessions for a start, let alone the opportunity to think for themselves! But she has been well taught, she knows her place and wants to keep her head down and be as useful as she can be.
When Peter arrives at the Surplus Hall he frightens and excites Anna with stories about the Outside, and about her parents. Peter says they love her, want her and want to rescue her. Anna has been taught for so long that her parents were bad people who had children when they should not and have left her to pay for it that she is quite bewildered by Peter’s assertions. She is also worried that Peter is going to upset her plans to be useful and get out of the surplus hall to be a housekeeper. At the same time she can’t understand how Peter keeps telling her and the other Surpluses things about the Outside and yet doesn’t seem to care about his punishments. Punishments at the Surplus Halls are brutal. She begins to ask questions. Even scarier are the feelings she begins to develop for Peter, as he tries to encourage her to escape she begins to believe that it might just be possible.
Peter tells Anna that there are people who don’t agree with Longevity, who believe children are precious and the cycle of life should be preserved. But with people scared to defy the Government and afraid to lose their Longevity drugs if they make their escape they will be on the run, they won’t know who they can trust until they make it back to Anna’s parents. Verdict: I loved all the issues this story raises. It feels like this is a situation that isn’t too big a step away from our society, always searching for eternal youth. Without being in your face it reflects on our propensity for waste and what we might be heading for if we don’t do something about it. But most of all it really makes you think, do we really want to live forever? Reviewed by Helen
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children
Publication Date: December 2012
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: British book