In the violent country of Ludania, the language you speak determines your class, and there are harsh punishments if you forget your place—looking a member of a higher class in the eye can result in immediate execution. Seventeen-year-old Charlaina (Charlie for short) can understand all languages, a dangerous ability she’s been hiding her whole life. The only reprieve from oppression is within the drug-filled underground club scene. There, she meets a beautiful and mysterious boy who speaks a language she’s never heard, and her secret is almost exposed. As the violent clashes between the totalitarian monarchy and the rebel forces escalate, it becomes clear that Charlie is the key to something much bigger: her country’s only chance for freedom from the terrible grip of a deadly regime.
Kimberly Derting, author of The Body Finder series, writes powerfully and movingly of a girl with dangerous powers in an unusual and expertly crafted setting.
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81 YEARS LATER
223 YEARS AFTER THE
REVOLUTION OF SOVEREIGNS
I gritted my teeth as Mr. Grayson’s voice grew louder and louder, until there was no mistaking that he meant for the people in the congested street to hear him, despite the fact that he knew full well they couldn’t understand a single word he spoke.
It was the same thing every day. I was forced to listen to his shameless bigotry simply because his shop stood across the crowded marketplace from my parents’ restaurant. He didn’t bother disguising his contempt for the refugees that flooded our city, bringing with them their “poverty and disease.”
And he did it right in front of them, smiling falsely to their faces while they filed past his shop, displaying wares he hoped to sell them. Of course, they had no real way of knowing—other than his scornful tone—that the shopkeeper mocked and ridiculed them since he spoke in Parshon, and they were obviously not vendors. They were the impoverished, sharing the downcast gazes of the Serving class. Yet even as the merchant called them names they couldn’t understand, they never glanced up. It wasn’t permitted.
Only when he finally addressed them in the universal language of Englaise did their eyes lift to meet his. “I have many fine fabrics,” he boasted in an effort to draw their attention, and hopefully their wallets. “Silks and wools of the finest quality.” And beneath his breath, but still loud enough to be heard, “And remnants and dirty scrap pieces as well.”
I glanced across the swell of tired faces crowding the market at this hour and saw Aron looking back at me. I narrowed my eyes to a glare, a wicked smile touching the corners of my lips. Your father’s an ass, I mouthed.
Even though he couldn’t hear what I said, he understood my meaning and grinned back at me, shocks of sand-colored hair standing up all over his head. I know, he mouthed back, a deep dimple digging its way through his left cheek. His warm golden eyes sparkled.
My mother poked her elbow into my ribs. “I saw that, young lady. Watch your language.”
I sighed, turning away from Aron. “Don’t worry, I always watch my language.”
“You know what I mean. I don’t want to hear that kind of talk from you, especially in front of your sister. You’re better than that.”
I stalked inside, taking shelter from the glare of the morning sun. My little sister sat at one of the empty tables, her legs swinging back and forth as she bobbed her head and pretended to feed the threadbare doll perched on the table in front of her.
“First of all, she didn’t hear it,” I protested. “No one did. And, apparently, I’m not better than that.” I raised my eyebrows as my mom went back to wiping down the tables. “Besides, he is an ass.”
“Charlaina Hart!” My mom’s voice—and her words—shifted to the throaty mutterings of Parshon, just as they always did when she lost her patience with me. She reached out and snapped me on the leg with her towel. “She’s four; she’s not hard of hearing!” She threw a glance toward my sister, whose silver-blond hair gleamed in the sunlight pouring in through the windows.
My little sister never even looked up; she was accustomed to my mouth.
“Maybe when Angelina’s old enough for school, she’ll learn better manners than you have.”
I bristled against my mother’s words. I hated when she said things like that; we both knew Angelina wouldn’t be going to school. Unless she found her voice soon, she wouldn’t be permitted to attend.
But instead of arguing, I shrugged stiffly. “Like you said, she’s only four,” I answered in Englaise.
“Just get out of here before you’re late. And don’t forget: we need you to work after school, so don’t go home.” She said this as if it were unusual. I worked every day after school. “Oh, and make sure Aron walks with you; there are a lot of new people in the city, and I’d feel better if the two of you stayed together.”
I stuffed my schoolbooks into my worn satchel before dropping down in front of Angelina as she silently played with her dolly. I kissed her on her cheek, secretly slipping a piece of candy into her already sticky palm. “Don’t tell Mommy,” I whispered close to her ear, wisps of her hair tickling my nose, “or I won’t be able to sneak you any more. Okay?”
My sister nodded at me, her blue eyes clear and wide and trusting, but she didn’t say anything. She never said anything.
My mother stopped me before I could go. “Charlaina, you have your Passport, don’t you?” It was an unnecessary question, but one she asked daily, every time I left her sight.
I tugged at the leather strap around my neck, revealing the ID card tucked within my shirt. The plastic coating was as warm and familiar to me as my own skin.
Then I winked at Angelina, reminding her one last time that we had a secret to keep, before I hurried out the door and into the congested streets.
I raised my hand above my head, waving to Aron as I passed his father’s shop, signaling that he should meet me in our usual spot: the plaza on the other side of the marketplace.
I pressed my way through the bodies, remembering a time—before the threat of a new revolution—when the streets were not so crowded, when the marketplace was simply a place for commerce, filled with the smells of smoked meats and leather and soaps and oils. Those smells were still here, but now they were mingled with the scent of unwashed bodies and desperation, as the market became a refuge for the country’s unwanted, those poor souls of the Serving class who’d been forced from their homes when trade lines had been cut off by the rebel forces. When those they served could no longer afford to keep them.
They flocked to our city for the promise of food and water and medical care.
Yet we could scarcely house them.
The monotone voice coming from the loudspeakers above our heads was so familiar I might not have noticed it if the timing weren’t so uncanny: “ALL UNREGISTERED IMMIGRANTS MUST REPORT TO CAPITOL HALL.”
I clutched the strap of my bag and kept my head low as I pushed ahead.
When I finally emerged from the stream of bodies, I saw Aron already standing in front of the fountain in the plaza, waiting for me. For him it was always a race.
“Whatever,” I muttered, unable to keep the grin from my lips as I handed him my book bag. “I refuse to say it.”
He took my heavy load without complaint, beaming back at me. “Fine, Charlie, I’ll say it: I win.” Then he reached into his own bag, which was slung across his shoulder. Behind us, the water from the fountain trickled musically. “Here,” he said, handing me a fold of soft black fabric. “I brought you something. It’s silk.”
As my fingers closed around the smooth material, I gasped. It was like nothing I’d ever felt before. Silk, I repeated in my head. I knew the word but had never actually touched the fabric before. I squeezed it in my hand, rubbing it with my fingertips, admiring the way it was almost sheer and the way the sun reflected back from it. Then I turned to Aron, my voice barely a whisper. “It’s too much.” I tried to give it back to him.
He shoved my hand away, scoffing, “Please. My dad was going to throw it in the scrap bin. You’re small enough; you can use the pieces to make a new dress or something.”
I glanced down at my scuffed black boots and the dull gray cotton dress I wore, plain and loose-fitting like a sack. I tried to imagine what this fabric would feel like pressed against my skin: like water, I thought, cool and slippery.
When Brooklynn arrived, she dropped her bag at Aron’s feet. As usual, she didn’t say “Good morning” or “Would you please?” but Aron reached for her bag anyway.
Unlike his father, there wasn’t an unkind bone in Aron’s body. Or maybe “stupid” was the word I sought to describe the elder Grayson. Or rude. Or lazy. It didn’t matter; any of those unflattering traits that his father possessed had apparently bypassed his son.
“What? You didn’t bring me anything?” She jutted her full lower lip in a pout, and her dark eyes flashed enviously as she eyed the silk in my hands.
“Sorry, Brook, my dad would notice if I snagged too much at once. Maybe next time.”
“Yeah, right, Midget. You say that now, but next time it’ll be for Charlie too.”
I smiled at Brook’s nickname for Aron. He was taller than Brooklynn now, taller than both of us, yet she still insisted on calling him Midget.
I slipped the delicate fabric into my bag with great care, wondering what, exactly, I would make from it, already anxious to put needle and thread to it.
Brook led the way as we moved around the perimeter of the plaza, where the crowds were already gathering. As always, we took the long way, avoiding the central square. I’d like to think that it was Brook’s or even Aron’s idea—or that either of them was as disturbed by the things that happened in the square as I was—but I doubted that was true. I knew it bothered me more.
From somewhere overhead, another message crackled: “ALL SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY MUST BE REPORTED TO YOUR NEAREST PATROL STATION.”
“Passports,” Aron announced solemnly as we approached a new checkpoint at the base of the giant archway that led to the city streets. He reached beneath his shirt, just as Brook and I did, pulling out our IDs.
There were more and more of the checkpoints lately, with new ones appearing overnight. This one was no different from most: four armed soldiers, two for each line—one for the men and one for the women and children. After the photo on each Passport was visually matched to the person wearing it, the identification card was scanned through a portable electronic device.
The checkpoints didn’t matter, really; they weren’t meant for us. We weren’t the revolutionaries they sought to keep from moving freely about the city. To Brook and Aron and me, they were simply another security measure, one of the consequences of the war brewing within the borders of our own country.
And if you asked Brooklynn, the checkpoints were a bonus, new opportunities to practice her flirting techniques.
Brook and I stood in our line, remaining silent as we awaited our turn. While our Passports were being scanned into the system and we waited to be cleared, I stood back and watched as Brook batted her thick black lashes at the young soldier holding her card.
He glanced down at the scanner, and then back to her again, and the corner of his mouth rose subtly, almost unnoticeably. Brook stepped closer than she needed to when the light on the portable computer flashed green, clearing her.
“Thank you,” she purred as she held his gaze, her voice low and husky. She slipped the Passport down the front of her shirt, making sure he watched it fall.
The IDs weren’t anything new to us. They’d been issued for as far back as anyone could remember. But it was only in the last few years that we’d been forced to start wearing them in order to be “tracked,” so that the queen and her officials knew where we were at all times. Just another reminder that the revolutionaries were tightening their stranglehold on the crown.
I’d once seen someone taken into custody at one of the checkpoints, a woman who had tried to slip through using another person’s Passport. She’d passed the visual inspection, but when the card was scanned, the little light on the machine flashed red instead of green. The Passport had been reported stolen.
The queen had no tolerance for crime. Theft was treated just as severely as treason or murder would be: All were punishable by death.
“Charlie!” Aron’s voice dragged me out of my own thoughts. I hurried after them, not wanting to be late for school, as I tucked my Passport back inside the front of my dress and ran to catch up. As I reached them, a loud cheer went up behind us—coming from the crowded square we’d just left behind.
None of us flinched or even faltered in our steps. Not one of us so much as blinked to acknowledge that we’d even heard the sound, not when we were so near the guards at the checkpoint who were always watching.
I thought briefly of the woman I’d seen that day, the one with the stolen Passport, and I wondered what it had been like for her, standing on the gallows in the square surrounded by a crowd of onlookers. People who jeered at her for the crime she’d committed. I wondered if her family had come to watch, if they’d seen the trapdoor drop open beneath her feet. If they’d closed their eyes when the rope had snapped her neck, if they’d wept while her feet swayed lifelessly beneath her.
Then the voice from the loudspeaker reminded us: “A DILIGENT CITIZEN IS A HAPPY CITIZEN.”
Inside, my heart ached.
“Did you hear that the villages along the southern borders are all under siege?” Brooklynn asked once we were past the soldiers at the checkpoint and on the less-crowded city streets, away from the marketplace.
I rolled my eyes at Aron. We already knew that towns along the border were under attack; they’d been under attack for months. Everyone knew. That was part of the reason our city was suddenly so overpopulated by refugees. Almost everyone had taken in stray family members and their servants.
As far as I knew, mine was one of the few families unaffected by the migration, but only because we didn’t have any relatives in the outlying areas of the country.
“I wonder how long until the violence reaches the Capitol,” Brook continued dramatically.
“Queen Sabara will never let them reach us. She’ll send her own army before they get too close,” I argued.
It was laughable calling our city “the Capitol,” since its concrete walls housed no one who held any real sway. The term implied authority and influence, when in reality we were simply the closest city to the palace. The queen was still the only person who held any true power.
But at least our city had a name.
Most of the cities of Ludania had long ago been stripped of that privilege, having been renamed simply by the quadrant of the country in which they were located and then ranked by size. 1West, 4South, 2East.
Children were often named in remembrance of the old cities. Once, it had been a form of rebellion to name a new baby Carlton or Lewis or Lincoln, a way of expressing dissatisfaction with the crown’s decision to reclassify cities into statistics. But now it was merely tradition, and babies were named after cities from countries across the globe.
People often assumed that my real name was Charlotte, after a faraway, long-ago city. But my parents claimed that they refused to partake in anything that would be considered rebellious, even a long-accepted custom like naming.
They preferred not to draw attention.
Brooklynn, on the other hand, liked to brag about her name’s roots. A great borough, in an even greater city that no longer existed.
She leaned in, her eyes feverishly bright. “Well, I heard . . .” She let those three words hang in the air, assuring us that she had information we didn’t. “. . . that the queen’s army is gathering in the east. Rumor has it that Queen Elena plans to join forces with the rebels.”
“Who told you that? One of your soldiers?” I whispered, so close now that my forehead practically touched hers as I searched her eyes probingly. I didn’t actually doubt her. Brook’s intelligence was rarely wrong. “How do you know they’re telling you the truth?”
Brook grinned, a slow, shameless grin. “Look at me, Charlie. Why would they lie to me?” And then she added, more seriously, “They say the queen’s getting tired. That she’ll be too old to fight back much longer.”
“That’s a bunch of crap, Brook. Old or not, Queen Sabara will never give up her country.” It was one thing to share real news from the front; it was another entirely to spread lies about our queen.
“What choice does she have?” Brook shrugged, continuing. “There’s no princess to take her place, and she certainly won’t allow a male heir to inherit the throne. It hasn’t been done in almost four hundred years; she’s not about to let it happen now. She’ll renounce the royal line before she allows the country to have a reigning king again.”
As we approached the Academy, I could feel my stomach tightening into angry knots. “That’s true, I suppose,” I said distractedly, no longer interested in a political debate. “She probably won’t allow herself to die until she finds a suitable female heir.”
I wished I could remain calm in the presence of the imposing school, impervious and unaffected. Above all, I desperately didn’t want the Counsel kids to see my discomfort.
Everything about the upscale school, including the students’ immaculately matched uniforms, screamed, We’re better than you. Even the white marble steps that led to the grand entrance of the Academy were polished to a high shine, making them look as if they’d be treacherous to maneuver.
I hated myself for wishing I knew the sound my shoes would make walking up them.
I tried not to look in the direction of the Academy students who loitered near the top of those steps. For some reason these particular girls bothered me most of all; these two who watched us more closely than the others, who enjoyed taunting us when we walked by.
Today was no different. The skirts of their identical uniforms were creased, and their snowy white shirts were starched and pristine. These girls most definitely knew the feeling of silk.
I tried not to notice as one of the girls moved purposefully down the last steps, her eyes targeting us. She flipped her golden-blond hair over her shoulder; her cheeks were flushed and rosy; her eyes glittered with malice.
She stopped on the sidewalk in front of us, holding up her hand, signaling that we should stay where we were. “Where are you three off to in such a hurry?” she intentionally asked in Termani, aware that we weren’t permitted to understand her.
Her words made the air vibrate around me, making it hard for me to breathe. I knew what I was supposed to do. Everyone knew. Beside me, Aron’s gaze shot to his feet, and Brooklynn’s did the same. A part of me wanted to ignore logic—to ignore the law—and my jaw clenched in response to her caustic words. But I knew that I wouldn’t. It wasn’t just my fate that I tempted if I broke the law—Brook and Aron might be held responsible as well.
I dropped my head and tried to ignore the prickling on my arms as I felt the girl’s eyes drilling into me.
Her friend stood beside her now, the two of them forming a wall in front of us. “I don’t know why they even let vendors go to school at all, do you, Sydney?”
And, again, the air shivered in hot waves.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Veronica, they have to go to school. How else are they going to learn to count our change when they work for us? I mean, just look at their hands. They’re already working somewhere, and they probably have no idea how to count or read or even how to write.”
I hated them both for thinking we were ignorant, and my teeth ached from biting back my retorts. But my cheeks burned as I stole a quick glance at Sydney’s perfectly manicured hands. She was right about that part; my nails were short and my skin raw from washing dishes in my parents’ restaurant. I wanted desperately to hide them behind my back, but I couldn’t risk letting her know I’d understood her insults.
Keeping my gaze averted, I tried to sidestep her, but she matched my stride, moving with me and keeping herself in my path. Blood pulsed in my ears.
“Don’t go yet,” she cooed. “We’re just starting to have fun. Aren’t you having fun, Veronica?”
There was a wooden pause, and then her friend answered, her voice apathetic. “Not really, Syd. I’m going back inside. They’re not really worth it.”
Sydney waited only a few seconds longer, still blocking our way, before she finally grew bored and left us standing there so she could follow her friend back up the polished marble steps. I didn’t lift my head until I heard the doors of the Academy close behind them.
And then I exhaled loudly.
“Why do they do that?” Brook asked, once we were away from the gleaming school. Her cheeks were red, and her eyes glistened with unshed tears. She reached over, her fingers closing around my hand. “What did we ever do to them?”
Aron seemed just as shaken. “I wonder what it is that they’re saying about us, when they do that.” His voice was ragged, and he shook his head wearily.
I just shrugged. It was all I could do. I could never tell them the truth of what Sydney and her friend had said.
We reached our school, which was far less grand and polished than the Academy. The building was old brick, not the eye-catching kind of brick found on historical buildings with charm, but rather the crumbling kind that looked like it might cave in on itself at any moment. We didn’t have fancy uniforms or even a name, like the Academy; we were merely known as School 33.
But it was hard to complain. It was a school, and we were allowed to attend. And it was still open, despite the fighting going on within our country. These were all things to be grateful for. There were worse things in life than attending a Vendor’s school.
Like attending no school at all.
The morning bell sounded, and everyone in the classroom stood, as did every other student at every other school throughout the country. In unison, we raised our right hands, our elbows bent, our fists raised skyward, and for the only time during school hours, we spoke in Englaise.
It was the Queen’s Pledge:
My breath is my pledge to worship my queen
above all others.
My breath is my pledge to obey the laws of my
My breath is my pledge to respect my superiors.
My breath is my pledge to contribute to the
progress of my class.
My breath is my pledge to report all who would
do harm to my queen and country.
As I breathe, I pledge.
I didn’t often listen to the words of the Pledge. I just spoke them, letting them fall negligently from my lips. After years of repetition, they’d become second nature, almost exactly like breathing.
But today, maybe for the first time ever, I heard them. I noted the words we emphasized: worship, obey, respect, contribute, report. I listed the order of importance in my head: queen, then country, then class. The Pledge was a command as much as it was a promise, yet another way that the queen demanded that we protect her and our way of life.
I looked at the kids around me, my classmates. I saw clothing in shades of grays, blues, browns, and blacks. Working-class colors. Practical colors. The fabrics and textures were sensible—cottons, wools, even canvas—durable and hard to soil. I didn’t even have to look to know that every student in the classroom stood erect, chins high. That was something our parents and teachers instilled in us each and every day, to be proud of who we were.
I wondered why we had been born of the Vendor class. Why we were better than some, yet not as good as others. But I knew the answer: It had nothing to do with us. It was simple fate.
Had we been born to parents of the Serving class, we would not be attending classes today. And had our parents been Counsel folk, we would have climbed the gleaming steps to the Academy.
The instructor cleared his throat and I jumped, realizing that the Pledge was over, and that my fist—and mine alone—was still raised.
My face burned hot beneath the stares of the forty-five merchant-born children who shared this hour with me as I dropped my fist to my side, clenching it tightly as I took my seat. Beside me, I saw Brooklynn grinning.
I glared at her, but she knew it wasn’t a real glare, and it only made her smile grow.
“You heard, didn’t you?” Aron spoke in a low whisper when I joined him in the courtyard for the lunch hour. Other than during the Pledge, Parshon was the only language we were permitted to speak in our school.
Aron didn’t need to elaborate. Of course I’d already heard the latest gossip. I dropped my voice too, as I scooted closer to him on the stone bench. “Do you know if they got her whole family? Did they take her parents and her brothers and sisters?”
Brook joined us then and immediately recognized the hushed tone and the way our eyes darted nervously, watching everyone and trusting no one. “Cheyenne?” she asked in a half whisper.
I reached into my book bag and handed Brook the lunch my mother had prepared for her, just as she had every day since Brook’s own mother had died.
She sat down on the other side of Aron, our three heads ducking close.
Aron nodded, his eyes meeting first mine and then hers. “I heard they came in during the night and took only her. She’s being held at the palace for questioning, but it doesn’t look good. Word is, there was real evidence this time.”
We stopped speaking, sitting straighter as the young boy made his way across the grass, gathering garbage along the way. He didn’t talk to anyone, just moved slowly, methodically, minding his step. As a member of the Serving class he had only one language, Englaise. So within the walls of our school—except during the Pledge—he wasn’t permitted to speak. He simply stared downward as he gathered refuse.
He was scarcely older than Angelina—six, maybe seven—with unruly black hair and calluses on his dirty bare feet. With his head down, I couldn’t see the color of his eyes.
He paused beside us, waiting to see if we had any trash he could collect. Instead, I reached into my own lunch and palmed a cookie my mother had baked. I held it out to him, making certain that no one else could see it in my hand. I raised my eyes, hoping he might lift his, but he never did.
When he was within reach, I slipped him the cookie, in the same way I would have given him garbage from my lunch. Anyone watching would’ve thought nothing of it.
The boy took the cookie, just as he did every day, and while I’d hoped to see eagerness or gratitude from him, I got neither. His expression remained blank, his eyes averted. He was careful . . . and smart. Smarter than me, it seemed.
As he padded away, I saw him slip the cookie into his pocket, and I smiled to myself.
Brooklynn’s voice drew my attention. “What kind of evidence did they find?” she asked Aron, her voice tight. News of Cheyenne’s imprisonment was making everyone edgy.
Unfortunately, however, Cheyenne wasn’t alone. Whispers of disloyalty to the crown had begun to take root, starting like a virus and spreading like a plague. It infected and corrupted ordinary citizens, as rewards were being offered to those willing to report anyone they suspected of subversion. People turned against one another, seeking information against friends, neighbors, even family members, in order to gain favor with the queen. Trust had become a commodity that few could afford.
And real evidence—the kind that could be substantiated beyond petty gossip—was deadly.
“They found maps in her possession. Maps belonging to the resistance.”
Brook’s lips tightened, and her head dropped. “Damn.”
But I wasn’t convinced. “How can they be certain they’re rebel maps? Who told you this?”
He looked up, and his sorrowful gold-flecked eyes stared back at me. “Her brother told me. It was her father who turned her in.”
I spent the rest of the day thinking about Cheyenne Goodwin.
What did it mean when father turned on daughter? When parent turned on child?
I wasn’t worried for me, of course. My parents were as solid as they came, as trustworthy and loyal as any parents could be.
I knew because they’d been keeping my secret for my entire life.
But what of everyone else? What if the rebellion continued to gain momentum, if the queen continued to feel threatened?
How many more families would cannibalize their young?
© 2011 Kimberly Derting
Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide to The Pledge By Kimberly Derting About the book Seventeen-year-old Charlaina, “Charlie,” lives in Ludania, a country ruled by a cruel monarch and strictly stratified by a caste system divided by language. The smallest transgression results in immediate death. But Charlie has lived her life with a secret so dangerous that if anyone ever found out, she’d be killed. Charlie can instinctively understand the languages of every caste, including the strange new language spoken by Max, a beautiful and mysterious boy whom Charlie meets one night at an underground club. Though Charlie is intensely drawn to Max, she isn’t sure where his loyalties lie. As the violent clashes between the totalitarian monarchy and the rebel forces escalate, it becomes clear that Charlie is the key to something much bigger—her country’s only chance for freedom from the terrible power of a deadly regime. Common Core Curriculum Standards: Reading Standards for Literature Key Ideas and Details RL 1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text. RL 2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas. RL 3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text. Craft and Structure RL 5. Analyze the structure of a text, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text relate to each other and the whole. RL 6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text. Speaking and Listening Comprehension and Collaboration SL 1. Prepare for and participate in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. Note: these are the anchor standards for reading and speaking and listening. You may want to visit the Common Core Standards website (www.corestandards.org) to locate the specific standard for your grade-level equivalent. Prereading Questions 1. If you were to make a pledge to protect someone or something above everyone and everything else, who or what would you choose? Why? 2. How does loyalty develop between friends and family? 3. How is loyalty instilled in the citizens of a country? Discussion Questions 1. Describe Charlaina’s world—her friends, school, and work. How does it compare to your own? What are the similarities? The differences? What are the most compelling aspects of Charlaina’s world? 2. Charlie’s two best friends seem to compete for her attention. Find an example from this in the text. Is this always the case with three friends, or is it a gender issue? Who do you think has Charlie’s best interests in mind—Aron or Brooklyn? Why? 3. If you had to choose three words to describe Queen Sabara, what would they be? How is her cruelty revealed to the reader? Do you think all people with power are corrupted by it or not? Explain. 4. Explain how one slip of her secret, one mistake, could ruin or even end Charlie’s life. How is language a source of power and control in the realm? What is the penalty for ignoring the rules? 5. Charlie’s gift often seems like a curse. Why? Do you wish you had a special talent, such as having the ability to read people’s minds? How do you think it would change your relationships? Do you think Charlie would give away her gift if she could? 6. What has Charlie’s father done to protect his daughters? Why is the family especially protective of their youngest daughter, Angelina? What type of life is she expected to have in Ludania? Why? 7. Describe the clubs that Brooklyn and Charlie visit. Would you be willing to go with the added risk of the hand stamp or not? How does Brooklyn act at these places? 8. Compare the male characters in the novel—Aron, Max, and Xander. Which one is your favorite? Can you relate to any of them? Explain. What qualities make a great male lead character and possible love interest? 9. Despite the fact that it’s against the law, Max speaks to Charlie in a language that she shouldn’t understand. Why? How do you know when you can trust someone with your secrets? How about with your heart? 10. How did the caste system develop in Ludania? Do you think there is any type of caste or class system in our own society? Why do you think castes exist at all in human societies? Even without a formal system, people like to put themselves above or at least compare themselves to others. Why do you think that is? 11. What pledge did Max make to Charlie? How is it tested the night of the “rallie”? Would you have helped Sydney or not? Why? 12. When the bombing starts, Charlie has one goal, and only one person to save. Who would you most want to protect in the world? Who would most want to protect you? 13. What does Charlie finally realize about the true identity of Max? What clues did she miss along the way? Does this make him more or less desirable to her? Why? What about to you? 14. What is Xander’s true role? Why does Charlie doubt him? Would you doubt or believe him? What are the important facts that Charlie learns about the resistance? 15. How does the Queen treat those she wants information from? What are her powers and limitations? Who did the author make you believe was the Queen’s captive at first? Who was it really? How did this add suspense to the story? 16. Who is the most surprising soldier of the resistance? Have you ever been surprised by a friend, similar to how Brooklyn shocked Charlie? Why didn’t they share their secrets? How did Brooklyn get involved in the resistance? Why didn’t she trust her own father? Is there anyone you should trust, but you don’t? 17. What clues are revealed of Charlie’s and Angelina’s birthrights? What does Charlie find and how is she able to interpret its meaning? What artifacts are important in your family? In other words, what would you save first in a fire? 18. What must Charlie know about the Queen in order to protect herself? Who do you have to protect yourself from? How do you do it? 19. Describe Max and Xander’s attempt to save Charlie. How does it backfire? Can you imagine learning that you are a royal? How would it shift everything you knew or believed? 20. How does the Queen manipulate Charlie into accepting her essence? In the end, what happens? Were you surprised? What makes a compelling ending to a story? What do you think will happen next between these characters and in the country of Ludania? Activities Art Create a movie poster or collage that will inspire others to read the book. Use a large format, bold fonts, color, and an interesting design to entice the readers. Music Create a playlist for the soundtrack of the movie. Choose which scenes you’d add music to and then decide on the music itself. In at least one sentence, explain why you chose each piece of music. History Research the caste systems in various parts of the world. How did they develop? Do they still exist today? What are the rules of the system and what happens to people who break the written and unwritten rules of their caste? Writing Write a brand-new scene that was not included in the novel between two characters, or rewrite a scene that did occur. What would you change? You could also write a journal entry as if you were one of the characters in the book and explain an event through their point of view. About the Author Kimberly Derting is the author of The Pledge and its sequel, The Essence. She has also written several other teen novels, including The Body Finder series. She lives in Western Washington with her husband and three children. Visit her online at www.kimberlyderting.com. Guide written by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, author and English teacher. This guide, written to align with the Common Core State Standards (www.corestandards.org) has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In a world where language divides the classes and everyone is expected to behave according to their stature in life, Charlie is no ordinary vendor's daughter, she can understand every language she hears. Try as she might to keep her head down and avoid drawing attention to herself, she makes a potentially grave mistake one night when she overhears a handsome stranger speaking in a tongue she's never heard before. I used to refuse to read dystopian fiction. I know, I know. I was missing out on some really spectacular books and I have long since seen the errors of my ways. The thing is, I thought that they were just filled with death, destruction, and totally depressing themes. I might have had one bad experience with a book I will not name, for fear of reprisal, but now I know the real value of the genre is in the fantastic world building and the courageous characters. The Pledge is no exception, I was pulled into Charlie's world right away and I couldn't stop reading until I knew what fate held in store for her. I loved Derting's twist on language and its role as a barrier amongst people, but the happiest surprise was how brave and strong the minor characters turned out to be. I was biting my nails as much for them as I was for the main character. While I liked Derting's The Body Finder series, I have to say this book takes her writing to a whole new level and I can't wait for the next book! This is an advanced reader's copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster GalleyGrab.
With its unique concepts, thrilling moments, and unexpected twists, The Pledge deserves all the fantastic praise its been receiving. We start off with Charlaina, or Charlie for short, who is of the vendor class. In Charlie's world, language is everything... and each class has its own language. She's not in the lowest class and she's not in a higher class either, but Charlie has a secret: she can understand each and every language. A trait which if revealed, could be the death of her. One night, when Charlie decides to go to a club with her best friend Brook, she meets the mysterious and sexy Max. But, Max and his friends can speak a language she's never heard before, yet she can still interpret it. As she gets to know Max, and new secrets are revealed, Charlie begins to realize she's far more important than she's realized. I have to give it to Kimberly Derting, The Pledge is very unique, and has many unexpected twists... some I saw coming and others that made my jaw drop. She created such a dark, and thrilling world that I loved reading about. I think it was Dee from Good Choice Reading that said "I could see this as a movie!" and I SOO, SOO agree. I think this book would make the best movie ever. Hey... I've got blonde hair, can I try out for Charlie?! Just kidding haha, but in all seriousness, this book is set up that if it was a movie, I'd see at midnight opening day. The details, the magic, the violence, the secrets, the imagery is just all set up so beautifully. With the characters, I so adored them all. Each and every character had a role to play, and was important to the story somehow. Charlie, is a brilliant lead character. She's strong, and careful, and the love she has for her family is just so admirable. Speaking of her family, I just couldn't get enough of her little sister, Angelina. Next, Charlie's best friends Brooklynn and Aron... Brook was, well without spoiling anything, was a very surprising character. At first, I honestly didn't think she was a very good friend but throughout the book, she grew on me. And Aron, well Aron is the sweetheart best guy friend we all know and love. And... Max. Mmm sexy, mysterious, protective Max. What can I say without spoiling anything... but that I loved his role and his determination, and I'd take me a Max any day! There are other characters that played roles too... Xander, Eden, Zafir, Claude, Sydney, Sabara, Charlie's Parents, and they all were enjoyable to read about. Overall, The Pledge is a magical and mysterious story that I'm sure so many readers will enjoy. And, I have to mention the cover! I think the cover is beautiful and fits the book perfectly. Also, I'm SO happy that this will be a series because after that ending I need more! I need to know what happens to Charlie! I need more Max! I need more unexpected twists and another riveting dark story!
Interesting idea and setup, but not at all carried to fruition, although fast-paced action. The plot twists were easily guessed, and the ending incredibly non-original. That said, the love story made no sense. Besides base attraction, Max and Charlie never have any connection, there is no dialogue or action where they really get to know one another. I kept reading this book, due to the praise of an author I love, Carrie Ryan, and thinking that things would shape up. They didn't.
So, Charlie resides in Ludania, a country where they keep everyone divided into a rigid caste system. Like the age-old residents of Babel (as in Tower of), Ludania's citizens cannot understand any languages other than that of their caste and a universal language, except Charlie (natch, or we wouldn't have much of a story here...). So, you know something's up the minute the mysterious Max comes on the scene and she can understand him although she's never heard the language before. Max (of course) is drawn to Charlie because she is so compelling. (I'm so over this device in YA novels.)¿ However, the day is saved (in terms of me not having a diabetic attack due to sappy overload) because Charlie doesn't immediately fall head over heels for Max just because he's dreamy. She makes him work for it and that's a good thing. If every teen girl starts taking a page out of most YA novels and falls for the first hot, creepy guy that is drawn (lusting) after them, we are in BIG trouble. Charlie is a great FP (female protagonist) and has a good sense of responsibility and love for her family. I liked rebel leader, Xander's role and was wondering if a potential love triangle was going to pop up. Max for all of his instant-love-you-forever-sappiness eventually won me over and, by the end, I was happy with how his part of the story winded up. Although, I'm sure, this book is just the beginning of a series, it really could have stood alone. You can see that there is room for more to tell, but I appreciate that Derting kept the novel intact instead of treating it as an Act I, as so many YA authors are doing lately. The pace was fire-quick and I was able to breeze through The Pledge with a quickness. The Pledge introduces us to an amazing and unique world. Derting has created a tale that I definitely want more of and her characters kept my attention at every turn. Bring on the sequel!
The only thing i really didn't like was how she made the love connection toward Charlie and Max it seemed more of a love at first site which I'm not a big fan of. Otherwise the book was amazing
*****Originally posted on amoustachebookshelf.blogspot.ca***** The Pledge is about a girl named Charlaina, or Charlie, who lives in a queendom where the language you speak depends on what class you're born in. There are strict rules and if you break the law, you die. However, Charlie has a power that might lead her to her death: she understand all languages. I heard about the book over the Internet, but I wasn't sure if I should give it a try because of the different reviews I read. But here I am, recommending it to all of those of love dystopian books with a touch of romance. We really understand what she goes through and the author adds some details that, at first, don't have any meanings, but as the story goes on it start to make you go "Oh my god! So that's why blablabla". All little details in The Pledge had a meaning. Also, there is no typical friendzoned best friends, and I am really glad about it. It always make me sad and kind of guilty when the sweet best friend get friendzoned by the main protagonist. But it didn't happened, so let's party!!! *woop woop* What I less enjoy was the fact that Charlaina wasn't the fighting-for-myself kind of girl, you know what I mean? Yes, she was understanding, caring and trustful but there was this little thing missing that would make her be the I'm-calm-but-don't-mess-with-me kind of girl. That made it hard for me to slip into the skin of the character. But I can't have everything I want. But since I am getting the second book...
This book is amazing! At first I was confused about what was happening but later everything was explained perfectly.
The idea of this plot is unfortunately better than the actual book. I felt it had so much potential, but the writing style just did not capture me. I felt it almost to be written in a very juvenile tone. Nothing descriptive or really emotionally capturing. I didn’t feel a strong connection to any of the characters, and often felt that things were happening too quickly, without much explanation. I really was not planning on reading the second book until I came to the very end, which finally drew my attention. Overall, it was a good read, but nothing spectacular, when you consider other dystopian series that are out there. I just finished reading the Chemical Garden Series, and felt that the world built around it was so descriptive and believable, the writing style made you fly through each chapter. Whereas, throughout the Pledge, I didn’t feel satisfied with the way characters suddenly became someone else entirely, with a very thin explanation, or the way it felt we were told just the bare minimum in order for the story to make sense. I’m hoping the next book will go into more detail and will strengthen the characters!
I loved the cincept of the book, the whole divison because of language is what caused me to read the book in the first place. As I continued in the book I realized that this book is as slightly dark and twisted as I hoped it would be. As I dont want to ruin the book for future readers, I will refain from devulging too much information, but this book will really have you hooked...I pledge to you(lolz...I couldn't resist)
The pledge was great. It was perfect in every way, but I thought that Charlie and Max "fell in love" way too fast. Charlie goes from hating him one day to loving him the next. And nothing really goes on between them to make them love each other. No dialoge. Nothing in common. There just wasn't really a connection. I liked how this book is so unique. The author created such a new world where languages divide social classes.
This book was nit what expected at first. The more I read the more I fell in love with it
This story was everything a book should be. The story sucked you in within the very first chapter. The charters were strong but not over powering and i couldnt put in down until the end.
What I loved: From the beginning, I was intrigued by the world and the characters Kimberly created. There wasn’t a single familiar thing about them. The story itself is unique and interesting with a world were people are classed and each class has her own language and they’re forbidden from speaking others’ languages. And I thought it was pretty amazing how things developed. Having chapters with particular characters’ points of views was great. It didn’t occur every chapter but only when we needed to know what the other character, that Charlaina was dealing with, was thinking. They were accurate and in the right place at the right time. The characters were unique and distinct. Each time Charlaina described who she was talking to or seeing, you could know exactly who he/she was. Even Sabara was unique and intriguing. Unlike other readers of this book, I found that the ending had an opening for a sequel. It was good not great but it left me hoping for what to come. Oh, and the sequel, The Essence, is just a fitting title for the next one Winking smile. What I disliked: What I do agree on with some other readers however, is that Max’s character felt like it had to be there for Charlaina to have a love interest. It wasn’t a bad thing but I would’ve loved to see Max earn his place in her heart and do other things in the story rather then just always be around Charlaina pledging and protecting her. To me, he didn’t play an important role at all. Xander was much better… Conclusion: This is one amazing first book. I can’t wait until The Essence is out next year!! I recommend you go check it out if you’re into dystopian novels and unique stories.
This isn't one of those cheezy reviews saying "it was awesome!" This book is a romantic treat that leads up to fantastic ending promising a second book, thank god, anyway this book is about a girl and her little sister and a prince. And brothers but there isn't a srupid love triangle so it really works! Also you get to view the story from a couple other views but it really is mostly just the lovely main charector who truly has quite a chaarecter.
This was a good story but it lacked detail. I must admit thought, that the language class was a brilliant idea.
The Pledge, though being a dystopian, felt more like a fantasy novel to me, what with all the magic and ancient queens. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since I also like fantasy. But, unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed by the end to find that the story and its characters feel completely flat for me. For one thing, the dialogues and plot seemed a little forced to me. Things were happening too abrupt, and there wasn’t always very much reasoning behind the characters actions. Also, there were some quick changes from one scene to the other, especially towards the end where everything seemed to be happening too fast. There was too much, too soon, not enough time to really grasp what was going on. Furthermore, I never really felt a liking towards the characters because they didn’t have much depth. They seemed flat and superficial. I couldn’t bring myself to really care for any of them. The love interest between Charlie and Max was yet another thing I just didn’t get. I couldn’t feel the chemistry between them and their feelings were underdeveloped and, again, forced. A plus, are the unpredictable twists in the plot. There were a few things that I really did not see coming and they did take me by surprise. And Kimberly Derting leaves some hints which you are only able to pick up on when you read it again, after knowing all there is to know. I always find this aspect cool in books and movies. The concept was an interesting one and the The Pledge ends without a cliffhanger (which is good), but I don’t think I will be continuing with the rest of the books in the series because I lost my interest somewhere on the way.
I do not know if this is one of the top....100 books i have ever read out of the thousands of books i have read in my life. But I have to hand it to Derting. This book was FREAKING AWESOME!!!! The first page got you going and you had to read on!!!! Read this book!!!
I enjoyed this book, but found it lacking in the ending, I felt it ended pretty quickly and left you with a... " ok now what? feeling"
The Pledge is an intensely fantastic suspense ride. Kimberly Derting gave these characters so many intriguing secrets I couldn't turn the pages fast enough to find them all out. I also love the ending in The Pledge. Just when I thought, okay, this is good; everything works out everybody¿s happy . . . BAM! Derting throws an evil twist, and there¿s one more secret, no happily ever after. Yet. I also like that this was Queendom. Yeah, that was a differences I really enjoyed after reading about kingdoms. The other thing I enjoyed about The Pledge was the characters and there are a lot of them and everyone had their secrets. I love it and them. Charlie (Charlaina) is seventeen, and lives in a prejudiced world and freedom is something she longs for. Charlie is also a Vendor and her language is Englaise. A Vendor does not look into the eyes of a Counsel who speaks Termani. If you do it, will be your last mistake. Charlie and her younger sister, Angelina, has a secret they have to keep, but the secret she¿s been keeping leads her to a bigger secret she didn't even know, and when she meets Max and his secret that leads to Xander . . . and his, and on and on its goes. I loved it. Like I said, intriguing finding out what everyone is hiding Max is a solder of the queen¿s army in Ludania, and when he meets Charlie, he's intrigued with her and can't stay away. Max knew he was in trouble when he met Charlie, and one problem was him falling in love with her. A love that he would pledge his life for to keep Charlie's secret and to protect and save her. The Pledge is an awesome read. It¿s a world of today mixed with historical and plenty of suspense and terrific characters who all have their little secrets to be found out. The Pledge is one secret I'm not keeping to myself. I highly recommend it as a must read :)
I absolutely loved this book. It had everything you could possibly need action, suspense, mystery, and romance. I would love to see a series come out of this just to see more Charlie and Max!
Wow. This book was thought provoking, interesting and a simply fantastic read all in one. Do not miss out on this great book which rivals The Hunger Games, without merely shadowing the book. This book is most definantly worthwhile!
I have no words! Ok, I have words but for dramatic effect, I have no words¿ I absolutely loved this book. First of all, (yay!) dystopian novel, and second of all, going to be a trilogy. Music to my ears! The Pledge was just ¿ wow! I was totally and completely swept up in the storyline. I could not put it down. At first I thought that this was going to be a predictable storyline, but nope! I was thwarted time and time again. I found myself segregating myself from everyone in my house (sorry¿) so that I could fully immerse myself into this book. I seriously could not stop reading. I was at a family function, and all I could think about was getting home to continue reading this book. I did a lot of nodding and smiling, let me tell you. I would lie awake thinking of everything that I read, and then stay up thinking of what could happen next. What I loved¿well, first the Prologue. It was beautifully written and left just enough in the end to leave the reader¿s hungry for what¿s to come. Derting is so imaginative in how she came up with the system of how people in this world got their names, and how class is determined by the language you speak. Derting weaves a believable description of what this world is like to live in. The fears that go through people¿s minds, the reality of consequences, how deceit and deception are second nature to most, even to their own children, just to gain the Queen¿s favor. I also loved Max. Ahhhh Max. I admit that I was very much crushing on him. Something about his attitude, his mysterious ways and actions reminded me a little of Patch from ¿Hush, Hush¿. I found myself smirking at things he would say, and pausing to imagine the little movements he would do, even the subtle ones, like whispering behind Charlie¿s back (sigh¿). And those six little words he left on a note for Charlie! Awwwwww¿ Just six words, but the meaning in those words were just so romantic. Sweeter than a lot of the poems out there. Derting did a fantastic job encorporating the background and history of Ludania (Charlie¿s world), whether it be by school textbooks, or thoughts. And her description of the invasion was perfectly written. It had so much detail that I could picture everything, see the events unfolding before my eyes. All I could think while this was happening was who would make it? What was going to happen? Where will they go? Who is going to help them? I felt like every page had a twist, or had a new secret to reveal. It was just so good! I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good dystopian novel. This one has action, romance, deception, and the element of surprise. Pick this up and come meet Max, and see why you¿ll be crushing on him too.
Charlie is a Vendor, a class designed strictly to serving people. She is only supposed to know her language. If she hears someone speaking in another language, she is supposed to avert her eyes and be passive. Unfortunately, Charlie has the ability to understand all languages spoken and written. She has hidden this from people, with the help of her parents, for several years. But when she is at a club with her friend Brooklyn, she hears a language never spoken before and almost gets caught. Then we learn that the Queen of Ludania is dieing. But she has magical powers that let her transfer here Essence from her body to a female heir. The problem is she has no female heirs and is on the look out for the last surviving family from the time when all royalty was killed. She has sent her grandson Max out to look for the girl. Max stumbles upon Charlie at a club and has the feeling that there is something special about her and vows to protect her. All this happens as Ludania is about to erupt into war. Rival monarchies and rebels are tired of the Queens rule. Xander is the leader of the rebels. After a chance meeting with Charlie, he has thinks that he has found the key to getting the Queen off the throne. I really liked this book. I hate to say it, but I liked Charlie¿s friend Aron better than Max or Xander. I will admit that I might have been a little slow in the beginning but the ending came with a bang. After reading this, I¿m really excited to read The Body Finder series.
The premise for this story definitely had a unique twist. Caste distinction and social oppression defined through language. That said I found it to be a bit unbelievable.I think that had the same world building been done, the same class lines drawn but without the whole language barrier.and had Charlie carried a different manifestation of her power it would have made a lot more sense. I also tend to have some trouble with the whole "love at first sight" premise. Rarely is it done well enough that compulsion is visceral enough for me to believe it. This time it was a bit of a stretch. That said I did easily fall in love with her character and most of the secondary characters. There backstories and inter personal relationships were rich and warm and I quickly came to care for all of them. Sadly, Max felt a bit hollow.I never really "got" him. Although it was entertaining enough to keep me reading and not feel as if I'd wasted my time, I don't know that I'd recommend this book. Though I suspect that it will probably go over better with a younger audience .ie. the YA audience for which it is targeted.
The Pledge had failed to impress me with the language division concept that becomes the groundwork of this series, although she did manage to captivate me with the story alone and also the paranormal element involved in the monarchy. In the end, the sinister, haunting add kept me curious and glued to the book until the last page. I don't necessarily anticipate the sequels; then again I'll give them a chance.