Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Danny Wright never thought he’d be the man to bring down the United States of America. In fact, he enlisted in the Idaho National Guard because he wanted to serve his country the way his father did. When the Guard is called up on the governor’s orders to police a protest in Boise, it seems like a routine crowd-control mission … but then Danny’s gun misfires, spooking the other soldiers and the already fractious crowd, and by the time the smoke clears, twelve people are dead.”
This is the kind of intelligent young adult novel that I think should be on every reading list imaginable. Yes, it contains a lot of action, and yes, it contains teen romance and angst, but there’s much more to it than that. This is a book that is going to make you think, and you’re going to end up pondering issues that you probably haven’t ever thought about before.
The crux of this novel boils down to the conflict between how much power should be given to the Federal government versus how much should be relegated to the states. We see this in many debates today—gun control, abortion, legalization of marijuana, and gay marriage to name a few—but in this story, the question of whether or not to require Federal ID cards for all citizens sparks action by the governor of Idaho. Much of the conflict hinges on the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which states that Federal law trumps state law, but only if the law is constitutional.
Once this issue arises, the novel goes into a slow burn. There are explosive conflicts in the story, and lots of action, but for the most part the author builds to the breakdown of the United States with an inexorable pace. The conflicts are localized and don’t spread far in this book, but there’s always the sense that worse is around the corner. And indeed, the more the plot goes on, the wider the unrest becomes. I think it’s a more realistic portrayal of how our country might fracture.
What I liked most about this novel is how there aren’t any “good guys” or “bad guys”. Each side is right about certain things and wrong about others. It’s up to you as the reader to decide where you stand on the issues presented. The author made some smart decisions in how he created Danny; as a National Guardsman, he has to swear loyalty to both governor and president, and this situation puts those two leaders in conflict. In the guise of Danny, the author is asking you to consider where your loyalties would lie as well.
This book made me think about the powers of state of Federal governments in a way that I never have before. It gives readers a concrete set of circumstances to ponder and brings weighty issues of political power down to a manageable level. Divided We Fall is an excellent novel to spark discussions among not only teens but adults as well. I can’t wait to see what happens next!