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THE BOOK: The Silenced.
PUBLISHED IN: Re-printed 2015
THE AUTHOR: James DeVita.
THE EDITOR: Jill Santopolo.
THE PUBLISHER: Milkweed Editions, Minneapolis MN.
SUMMARY: In the aftermath of the Millenium War, the new Zero Tolerance government focuses on the safety inherent in homogeneity of political thinking, ethnic origin, and appearance. A wall has been constructed around the southern part of the country and suspected families relocated into a “re-dap” community in which the young people can be educated into right-thinking. But within her Youth Training Facility, Marina has found some kindred souls: an art teacher who encourages her, a boyfriend with whom she sneaks out at night, and a rebellious newcomer. As she gradually retrieves her memories of her mother’s death, Marina determines to honor her spirit, starting her own resistance movement, the White Rose. This leads to a horrifying discovery: the tool the party uses to silence wrong-thinkers permanently.
THE BACK STORY: I came across the story of Sophie Scholl by accident. I saw a notice on a board in a college hallway about a lecture being given, something about this a woman being arrested and executed for writing and passing out leaflets in Nazi Germany. I couldn’t shake the idea of someone being executed for putting what they thought into the written word. It struck me then how powerful language is, the written word, and free thought. The Nazis were so scared of what this young woman was writing (she was 22), that they mobilized a special task for to find her and her fellow resistance fighters, and destroy them.
I researched just about every totalitarian regime in the world, and there are elements of them all in the book. I needed only to read the newspapers to have my ideas for the day. I also read tons of collateral research: the history of the Balkans, Nazi Germany, the Hitler Youth movement, Korea, China, Columbia, and more.
The book took me a good three years to write, and just as long to get it published. It was a tough road to getting it published, but I am very pleased and flattered that the book has been reprinted by Milkweed Editions and has also made its way into many high schools in the Midwest. It is taught during Holocaust studies, often with Elie Wiesel’s Night. It is also used in some ethics classes. WHY THIS TITLE?: The book is inspired by the real exploits of Sophie School and The White Rose, a resistance group against the Nazi regime in WWII. In my research I found a quote in which someone said: once we see a wrong, we give up the right to be silent about it. If we are silent, we are complicit.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? First off I think of this as a ‘bridge’ book, suitable for mature adults as well as mature YA readers. I like to say that The Silenced was dystopian before dystopian was cool, as it was first published in 2007. What’s distinct about this novel is that the world it is set in is not science-fiction, it is not fantastical – it is a few years in our own future. A world very much like ours. Recognizable. A world which echoes the front pages of the newspapers today. It is shocking to me how timely the book is now, given the political disparities in our country today and the level of intolerance, ignorance, and hate-mongering. The book feels like it was written about today. It is also inspired by a real woman in history and real events. Those interested in history would find the real life story of Sophie Scholl fascinating.
“This is far and away the best young adult novel I have read for years. It was assigned to my daughter for 8th grade summer reading, and so I read it. And couldn’t stop. It has a marvelously vibrant and courageous young heroine, and friends who may betray or help — hard to predict. Best of all it is based on one of the most ultimately tough young women to grace this earth.” Louise Erdrich, National Book Award Winner
“The Silenced is unique…I would recommend this book to students and libraries for its unique approach and readability, and I believe it could be well used in a literature or social studies class to approach an introduction to Holocaust Education.” Elizabeth Kirkley Best Phd., Shoah Education
“This surrealistic and grim world, wherein children are recruited to spy on their parents, lobotomized resisters are turned into unquestioning guards, and painting a rose can get you murdered, is hauntingly well developed, serving as the perfect challenge for the irascible and resolute Marena.” “… compelling protagonist, terrifyingly realistic (sometimes only slightly exaggerated) setting, and gripping pace.” The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“James DeVita’s grim and sure-to-be-controversial novel of adolescence in a police state… excellent, though troubling, novel.” Bookpage Notable Title
AUTHOR PROFILE: James DeVita, a native of Long Island, NY, is an author, actor, and a theater director. He is a core company member and literary manager at American Players Theater, a classical repertory theater in Wisconsin. He has worked as an actor in Japan, Germany, Australia, Ireland, and around the United States; and also worked as a fisherman on Long Island for five seasons
Along with his novels, A Winsome Murder, The Silenced and Blue, Jim has also worked extensively as a playwright for young audiences. His work in the field has been acknowledged with The Distinguished Play Award from The American Alliance of Theater and Education; The Intellectual Freedom Award by the Kentucky Council of Teachers of English/Language Arts; the Shubert Fendrich Memorial Playwrighting Contest, and The American Alliance of Theater and Education honored his body of work with the Charlotte B. Chorpenning Award.
His adult and produced plays for the stage include: Learning to Stay, Babylon, Gift of the Magi (a musical adaptation); In Acting Shakespeare; The Desert Queen (the life of Gertrude Bell); Dickens In America; and Waiting for Vern.
Jim is also a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship for Fiction.
His education began as a first mate on the charter boat JIB VII out of Captree Boat Basin, NY, where he worked for five seasons. He then studied theater at Suffolk County Community College. Long Island, where he received an AS degree, then the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he received a BFA. He also attended Madison Area Technical College where he was licensed as an Emergency Medical Technician
AUTHOR COMMENTS: “When I first started researching this book (early 2000) there was talk of building a wall between our country and Mexico (a wall dividing a country is a major image in my book), there was talk of implanting rice-sized computer chips beneath out skin for medical reasons, there were arts programs being removed from schools; there was talk of the government tracking our reading habits at libraries, prisoners in China had to write daily ‘thought reports’, and many other murmurings about our privacy and freedom of speech being infringed upon, and growing intolerance of those considered to be different than us. Many of these things have come to fruition, or are still around, or are on the verge of becoming real. The book is both a cautionary tale of the dangers of indifference and intolerance, as well as story of hope. Hope of how one person, doing what is right, can change the world.”
SAMPLE CHAPTER: 1
Marena hurried down the street, past the long stretch of identical home-units, the winter air needling her awake. Outside the open perimeter gate a green YTF bus sat huffing its exhaust into the chilly morning. Marena quickened her pace, trying to zipper her coat between strides. An electric bell buzzed, and the tall gate shuttered, creaked, and began to inch its way closed. She broke into a run, waving her journey permit over her head and shouting at the blank-faced Stof in the guardhouse, “I’m here! I’m here!” He didn’t stop the gate. “Hold up. I’m right here!”
The thin doors of the bus closed, and its hulking frame clunked into gear. Marena sprinted the last few steps, scooted sideways through the gate, and held her permit up for the Stof to see.
He stared at her with dead eyes and waved her through.
The bus braked to a stop, the doors flapped open, and Marena climbed up the thick rubber steps. She pressed her hand into the digiprint which flashed blue. The driver let her pass, and she headed down the aisle.
Sitting in the front seats to her left were a couple of nukes—newly-culled kids whose parents had been recently convicted of crimes against the state. Marena knew what a joke the cullings were. All the big legal words—inherited guilt, associative responsibility, the Filial Internment Act—were just a bunch of lies made up by the Zero Tolerance Party. It was how the ZTs made it legal to arrest anyone for anything at all: wrong color, wrong religion, wrong ideas.
There were two nukes this month, and Marena nodded to them as she passed. A frightened-looking girl, about fourteen, black hair, clutching a clear plastic book bag, nodded back. The other, an older boy, looked at Marena quickly and then stared front again. Thin and freckled, he looked like he was trying to act cool, but Marena noticed his foot tapping nervously beneath the seat in front of him. She would have liked to sit with them and tell them it really wasn’t that bad, that they’d get used to things after a few months; she’d have liked to tell them which students at the youth training facility were safe and which were listeners, or who the nice instructors of public enlightenment were, or how to sneak out after curf and scavenge without getting caught, but she knew she couldn’t take the chance. It was so hard to know whom to trust that it was easier not to trust anyone.
Marena continued down the aisle. To her right, JJ-Girls—Jennifer, Heather, and Michele—stopped comparing the latest jewelry they’d scrounged and looked up. Marena turned her back to Jennifer’s whispered insults and walked past her. Behind Jennifer, Franky “Pug-face” Poyer stuck his ugly puss into the aisle. Marena pushed by him and smiled at Dex, who was in the back row, saving her a seat. Dex had been a part of her relocation group after they’d been culled from their homes and assigned to the Spring Valley Re-Dap Community.
Marena flopped bedside Dex, barely keeping the required foot of distance between them. They touched hands quickly.
“Hey,” Dex whispered, ignoring the no-talking rule. Like a ventriloquist, he and almost everyone at the YTF had learned to talk while barely moving their lips.
“Hey,” Marena whispered back, staring at the ceiling.
“Nothing. Just my dad being a jerk again.”
The bus pulled away from the compound and gathered speed, skimming silently along what had once been country roads winding through the lush farmland of Spring Valley. The farms were dead now, and the roads were flat black asphalt, cutting straight across the barren fields.
Dex turned to Marena. “You get in okay last night?”
“Yeah. What about you?”
She wriggled out of her coat, leaning into Dex longer than she should have. He pressed back, and she knew he was enjoying the stolen moment of closeness.
“Wake me when we’re there,” he whispered.
Marena smiled, wondering if he felt as safe as she did when they were together. She twisted around and looked out the back window, watching the vast tracks of ruined cropland spill out behind the bus. Whatever had once thrived in the rich soil of Spring Valley was long dead. Weeds, wilted dark from the coming cold, blanketed the wasteland, and a black frost glinted under the early-morning sun.
Marena squinted at the odd beauty of it, wondering why the sun would even choose to rise on such a place as this. She tried to count the shadowy lines of old furrows ghosted beneath the weeds, but they flickered by too fast. A tree, overlooked somehow in the ravagings, still stood in one field. Scattered around its trunk lay most of its leaves, blazing in autumn reds and crimson-yellows. They looked almost fake, they were so beautiful, like someone had dumped out a box of paper cutouts. A few early flecks of snow flitted down.
A faint image came to Marena, something she’d seen before. . .White, something white. Just a glimpse, then gone. A snowman? she thought. No, no, it was moving. Clouds? She turned front, keeping an eye on the bus driver, and slid down in her seat. She snuck her hand into a hidden seam of her coat and eased out a small stapling of scrap paper she’d stolen from art class.
Dex saw the paper and shook his head. He hadn’t been sleeping at all.
Marena tapped her eyebrow twice, signaling to Dex to keep watch gave him their keep watch and then leaned over as if to tie her shoe. She slid out the small stub of a pencil she’d hidden in the cuff of her pants and, staying low behind the seatback, started to write, but the image was no longer there. She looked out the window again. Sometimes she had to trick her memories into showing themselves, cold-shoulder them a little.
It came again.
The doorbell’s ringing. It won’t stop. Footsteps on the porch. My mother walking toward the front door. They’re getting in the house. They have no faces. . .white heads. . . masked—
It’s okay, it’s okay.
It’s kids. It’s just kids. There’s laughter, my mother’s laugh. The little kids are dressed in white, dressed up like silly ghosts, holes cut out for eyes, goofy mouths drawn in Magic Marker. It’s just kids.
Marena laid her small binding of paper against her knee, pressed it flat, and wrote.
“I remember her arm above me holding open the screen door. Her dress—a tiny flower print, yellow and blue. I remember the smell of cold and the wind. Outside, the sound of dried leaves blowing. It was a holiday we used to have. . .where kids played dress-up. I had candy in my hand that I passed out to the children. Then they left, and my mother took me back inside to the living room. I knelt at the coffee table. It had a thick glass top and—”
A different memory, an uninvited one Marena knew well, cut in.
glass flashing white. . .bright, blinding white. . .explosions. . .no sound. . .blood everywhere.
She closed her eyes and tried to chase the images away.
Still she saw the blood.
She focused on the first memory again: on her mother, the dress, the flower print. Keep writing, she told herself, trying to picture her mother’s face, but all that she could see was her hair. . .
“Beautiful hair, dark and long, pooling out on the glass top of our coffee table when she wrote. But on this day, the holiday, she wasn’t writing. She was playing with me, cutting shapes out of sheets of orange paper. I had my own scissors too—blue-handled and blunted.”
Marena put the pencil down and let the memory wash over her: her mother unwrapping a new package of construction paper, clear plastic, the glint and crackle of cellophane, white glue on their fingers. She could smell the glue. She could hear the hollow flup-flup of the thick sheets of colored paper as her mother fanned them in the air. She could even feel the soft crunchy sound the scissors made as she cut out crooked silhouettes of cats and bats and—
“Hey,” Dex said, tapping Marena. “Put that away. We’re here.”
The memory vanished at his touch.
Marena hid her paper inside the seam of her coat and stuffed the pencil stub back in her cuff. She felt better. Recalling things that had happened made her feel good, like she’d accomplished something. It was one thing the ZTs couldn’t get their hands on. They had tried to erase everything or twist it into something it wasn’t. But they couldn’t touch what she kept inside her. Whatever Marena could remember was hers. Every thing of beauty, she thought, calling to mind her mother’s words, every memory of something good, is a form of resistance.
The bus idled in place within the gates of the YTF, waiting for the security sweep. A pair of black jack-boots clacked by, a Stof inspecting the underside of the bus with a mirror attached to the end of a long silver shaft. Marena pressed her forehead against the cold window and couldn’t help thinking how as a little girl she’d heard of things like this happening to other people in other countries. She’d felt so safe then, so sorry for those poor people in all those faraway places. Do they feel sorry for us now? she wondered. Is there a faraway little girl somewhere thinking, Those poor people, or is she thinking, Those people, now they know.
An electronic buzzer screeched the all-clear signal, and the bus eased through the security gate.
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