Sunday, June 3, 2012
A Pledge of Royal Proportions
Native English speakers of the world take the fact that English is the closest thing to a universal language for granted. What if your language was the thing that defined your social class and every aspect of your life? In Kimberley Derting's dystopic trilogy, The Pledge, language is more than just communication. It is a way to control the masses and allow one tyrannical queen to control her country for lifetimes.
Charlaina, who goes by Charlie, is in the Vendor class. That means she speaks two languages, Englaise, the universal language and Parshon, the language of the Vendor class. If a person indicates they can understand a language of a higher class, they will be put to death. In fact, any interactions with a higher class means they can't even make eye contact without being arrested. But Charlie has a secret. She understands everything. She understands all languages, even those that she has never heard before. This could put her entire family in danger in a society where turning in your neighbor solidifies your place in society.
But their country has more going on than just the huge divisions in classes. They are at war, constantly under threat of being attacked from surrounding countries. When two strange young men show up in Charlie's life, she knows something isn't right. Max is followed by two huge thugs and Xander is clearly a man with deadly secrets. They each warn Charlie to stay away from the other, but Charlie can't seem to avoid either one. When their secrets coincide with Charlie and her family caught in the middle, the truth finally comes out, but it is a reality Charlie never thought was possible.
The language aspect of this dystopia is a very different angle, and it is a great way to open up a line of dialogue with young adults about classes, castes, and societal norms. As a teacher of dyslexic students, I love the idea of language being inaccessible and the basis for keeping classes in their place. It is something I am certain my students would be able to appreciate and relate to in a way non-dyslexics wouldn't understand. While this book has clear entertainment value and would appeal to a wide range of people, there is a population who would get more out of this than most others: those who are already find themselves divided and held down because of language.
The Pledge is a great story for any strong middle school reader through high school student. Some of the names of languages and such are a little tricky, but they don't distract the reader. The queendom they all live in is fascinating and the queen herself is terrifying! My favorite part of the book is how everything all fits together in the end. But I warn you, it ends in a way that will keep you chomping at the bit to get ahold of the next book!