CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 5 . . . . October 6, 2017
King and Wright are running against each other for President of the United States—their campaigns are eerily similar to the recent election in the US between Trump and Clinton—and the election is essentially dividing the country. Caught in the middle are Samantha Smart, her best friend Kayla, and her boyfriend Brady. Kayla is a staunch supporter of Wright while Brady is a supporter of King, with Samantha being much more on-the-fence, at least until she realizes the price the country has paid by electing King. Brady becomes a Guard Elite—a military-style force that King has set up to "protect" the country—and Kayla suffers an untimely end in a large-scale attack that may have been terrorists, or possibly an elaborately designed excuse for King to declare martial law. Whatever the reality behind the attack may be, Samantha is forced to take a side after a photo of her carrying Kayla through the smoke and rubble aftermath goes viral, turning her into the face of the revolution.
Green's novel, in many ways, takes cues from 1984 and The Hunger Games. The slow and steady takeover of a dictatorial government occurs alongside the development of a reluctant revolutionary hero (a la Katniss Everdeen.) And while President King has more in common with President Snow than President Trump, the way in which Green portrays King is eerie in its similarities to current events: "King did what he always does and went ahead with what he wanted." Similarly, the revolutionary tactics against King and his supporters mirror the tactics of Anonymous during the 2016 election and the aftermath: "[Y]ou'll recall the extremist group that admitted to releasing the 'Robin Hood' virus that crippled the banking industry two weeks ago by deleting the financial records of thousands in substantial debt." This, I believe, is one of the main strengths of Green's novel. Her ability to combine a fictionalized future with elements of contemporary events will greatly appeal to young readers, whether they are politically inclined or not.
While there are many parallels to current events, though, Green takes many people's fears to the extreme, setting up a full dictatorship, with full military control. She pits teens against each other by incentivizing enrollment in the Elite Guards (much like the US currently markets military experience to young people as an exciting opportunity for advancement while downplaying the dangers and risks), and focuses on a militaristic future rather than one that is subtler in its insidiousness. More politically knowledgeable teens may find themselves wondering what happened to all the checks and balances of government (House, Senate, Courts, etc.) in the case of President King and his regime (how did he overcome all need for legislation, for instance?)
The language in many ways mirrors current events whether in the US, North Korea, Russia, or other places with Far-Right parties attempting to take control: Revolution, traitor, dissent, resistance, work camps, etc. All of these terms have numerous implications currently and historically, but the way that Green utilizes such terminology within the narrative is effective and reasonable given the context. King's government, though stereotypical in some ways, is effective in its depiction since it gives young readers an enemy to want to fight against.
In the end, this is a smart and engrossing story of the consequences of inaction and the power of revolution in a world gone awry. How Samantha Smart Became a Revolutionary is not just an action packed and politically charged thriller; it is a call for action in an unstable future. Resist!
Rob Bittner has a PhD in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies (SFU), and is also a graduate of the MA in Children's Literature program at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He loves reading a wide range of literature, but particularly stories with diverse depictions of gender and sexuality.