October 23, 2017

How Samantha Smart Became a Revolutionary

Written by Dawn Green
Red Deer Press
312 pp.
Ages 13-17
September 2017

The title How Samantha Smart Became a Revolutionary may sound tongue-in-cheek, but there's nothing whimsical about Dawn Green's newest young adult novel.  It's a serious look at how easily a world can go wrong because of the vision of its leaders and how a relative moderate can become a poster child for a resistance movement.

Told in alternating chapters of "Then" and "Now", How Samantha Smart Became a Revolutionary follows the story of teen Sam Smart who begins university, determined not to be distracted from her studies or soccer, and meets a guy named Brady Smith–that's the "Then"– and who is apprehended as a rebel leader of the Wright Resistance–that's the "Now."  "Then" was a time of political fervour as the election for the country's president pitted charismatic John King against more socially responsive Richard Wright.  Though light on platforms, King wins on a smear campaign and begins rampant changes to address significant issues of food, water and energy shortages, pandemics and terrorist attacks.  Sadly he also institutes a new King's Guard ostensibly to serve the community but which, under the leadership of King's key advisor, General Marcus O'Brien, joins with the police and the military and becomes a force to be feared.  Sam may want to keep out of these matters, especially as Brady's family is so pro-King and Brady is determined to appease his father, but Kayla, Sam's roommate and best friend, is an ardent support of Wright and encourages Sam to join her at protests and rallies.  
Sam, I want you to remember this––you can let the moments define you, or you can define the moments. (pg. 115)
The world is changing around Sam and she doesn't like what she sees in King's treatment of immigrants, restrictions, and favouritism for the Guard and allies.  Though it is starting to impact her life–a scholarship lost, Brady joining the Guard, TA friend Aaron heading west to work with Wright's Equality Organization–it's not until she and Kayla, who is being sought out after an incident at a peaceful protest turned ugly because of the Guard, attend a football game where shots are fired and bombs go off that Sam is seen as the face of the Resistance and a rebel by King and his Guard.
See, that's what's wrong with this society.  Giving hero status to a girl they don't even know, based on an inflated image with some catchy hashtag underneath. (pg. 158)
Although Sam has come from a difficult background and is fairly opinionated, courtesy of her grandpa, she does not throw herself into the Resistance like Kayla or speak out against Brady's indoctrination into the King politico machine.  Even a photo taken of her at the O2 attack at the stadium is not indicative of her leanings, only her concern for her friend and compassion for others.  That's when it all changes because it's what others see in her that determines her fate.  And yet, she's still the girl in love with Brady Smith.  How Sam, and ultimately Brady, resolve their relationship with their beliefs and their actions, is not straightforward.

Dawn Green, author of When Kacey Left (Red Deer Press, 2015), packs a lot of story into How Samantha Smart Became a Revolutionary and she tells it with daring. There is a love story, a message about absolute power, about action and inaction in the face of injustice, and how everything can change in a moment and put your life on an unexpected path.  It's also a statement about media and how the powerful may attempt to manipulate it but how others may find ways for the truth to be revealed. In our troubled times, How Samantha Smart Became a Revolutionary is a very telling tale of how things can go horribly wrong with those seeking absolute power.  Though Dawn Green doesn't give us a happy ending, she gives us hope that the story will continue. Sometimes that's even better.

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