Article 5 by Kristen Simmons is an excellent science fiction look into a dystopian future where the United States is radically different from it is today. After a war, certain basic rights that Americans had been granted under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights have been repealed, and replaced with other articles. The replacement Articles are much harsher and more restrictive, and though they were enacted in the name of helping to preserve America as it used to be, a great and powerful country, instead the articles infringe on people’s rights so much that many of our basic freedoms have been stripped away from us.
Sound familiar? It should, as it’s the basic framework for many, many dystopian science fiction novels, one of the latest and best being The Hunger Games series. I sadly haven’t read the novels yet (though my daughter has and loves them), but the movie was, IMHO, totally excellent. Woodie Harrelson almost stole the movie in one of his best roles in recent years.
So, how does Article 5 stack up against it? Is it better, about the same, or worse? It’s really an unfair comparison, as any work of literature/art should be judged on its own merits. Just like with classical music (or any music), there’s nothing new under the sun, at least when it comes to basic storylines and parameters. It’s what an author does within those set parameters that either elevates a novel to as exalted level or relegates it to a level of mediocrity.
Let’s examine Article 5 a bit. I think when you get the chance to purchase and read it, you will, as I did, fall in love with the story and feel intimately tied to the fates of the main characters, and that is definitely one of the marks of a great and very enjoyable read.
The book centers on the fate of a young woman, seventeen-year-old Ember Miller, in a chilling not-so-far future where the moral right has taken over. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with people having a strong sense of morality and what is right and wrong; but, the government of this future America does so with a Nazistic sort of fever. They have even formed Moral Statutes and there are no more police–only soldiers whose job it is to strictly enforce the Moral Statutes. Failure to comply with them (even if you engaged in an activity in the past, before the laws were enacted) means that if you’re found out and caught, you could be sent away to prison camps to be “re-educated.”
Many of Ember’s fellow students and their parents have been taken away, given mock trials, and sentenced, never to be seen again. As Ember lives with her Mom, who is a single parent, and her Mom also reads romance novels–considered to be now illegal books–it is not long before the soldiers are knocking on her own door. Both her Mom and herself are dragged away, and the rest of the novel is about the humiliation she suffers, and her struggle to maintain a grain of hope in the face of what seems to be a hopeless situation.
To add insult to injury, one of the soldiers who arrests Ember and her Mom is Chase, who Ember used to have a crush on. He had eaten meals at their house, and Ember has at that time felt a growing romantic connection between them. But, now, he seems to be as cold as ice, and uncaring as to what happens to her and her Mom. But, is he really that changed; or, is there some other reason for his cold and brutal behavior?
What are the first five Articles? The first states that the “United States embraces the Church of America as her official religion.” Some ramifications of this Article are that anyone who doesn’t embrace it as their religion, like Jewish people, are persecuted and taken away by the soldiers–part of the reason for my earlier Nazi reference.
The second Article is one of the ones that Ember’s mother violates: “Literature and other media considered immoral are hereby banned and shall not be owned, bought, sold, or traded in any capacity.” Of course, this, in itself, totally wipes out our current First Amendment, regarding the freedom of speech, the press, etc. The banning of books has happened in America before, and certain books are still banned from school libraries today. Some school libraries even ban books by Mark Twain, like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.
The third new Article states that “Whole families are to be considered one man, one woman, and child(ren).” Single-parent families, thus, would be considered to be illegal, as well as any family with same-sex partners. Even a man and a woman who are married, but have been unable to conceive children and haven’t adopted any, would presumably fail to meet the definition of a “family.”
The fourth Article is “Traditional male and female roles shall be observed.” This brought to my mind how life is like in certain restrictive Middle Eastern countries, and how at one time in America the phrase “a woman should know her place,” and ones like “a woman should be barefoot and pregnant” were in vogue and hardly anyone would bat an eyelash at hearing them spoken in conversation.
The fifth Article is “Children are only considered valid citizens when conceived by a married man and wife.” So, if you were conceived out-of-wedlock, you would, under these 5 Articles, basically not be considered to be a citizen of the United States. If these Articles were in place today, how many of us could say we are compliant? How many of us would honestly want to be?
Article 5 by Kristen Simmons is a very powerful, emotionally charged roller coaster of a ride, and the characters and their plights will stay with you long after you finish reading the book. It is the start of a new series by Kristen Simmons, and it promises to be very memorable. It is different in many ways from The Hunger Games, though it is similar in its dystopian theme, and the fact that both books have a strong female protagonist. I am definitely looking forward to reading the other books in the series, and I highly recommend Article 5 to anyone who loves reading science fiction with a dystopian theme, carefully crafted plot, and powerful main characters–and, who doesn’t love that?
–Douglas R. Cobb–