I turned the last page of The Testament of Jessie Lamb a few days ago, but the book stayed with for quite awhile as I mulled it over. Jane Roger's novel is definitely thought provoking.
It is set in England sometime in the not too distant future and told from the perspective of sixteen year old Jessie. A virus - Maternal Death Syndrome, known as MDS has been unleashed. What does it do? It kills every woman who becomes pregnant, and the child is born infected as well. The virus will eventually kill off the human race. No one know who is responsible.
Jessie is just coming into adulthood, making choices about school, boys and her own beliefs. She joins many activist groups and supports other current causes - fuel consumption, eco-causes, animal rights, children's rights, feminist rights and ultimately the right to choose. But not choose as we know it. Instead, the choice is to become pregnant with a embryo frozen before the virus was unleashed. It is thought that these children will be born healthy. The scientists involved have decreed that young women will be the best incubators. They become known as Sleeping Beauties. And Jessie decides that this is the ultimate act for her. Her part - her dying - will help save the human race.
And this is where all the mulling came into play. Does Jessie have the right to choose death? How much of that choice is made for her with propaganda, peer pressure, societal pressure? Is she making the choice for purely selfish reasons? To show her parents she is grown up? Is she able to make such life altering decisions at what we consider to be a young age? What about a society that has accepted these Sleeping Beauties as part of their culture? And accepts these deaths as necessary. How much change can one individual make with their choices? I could go on and on - you can see why the book stayed with me. The Testament of Jessie Lamb would stimulate lots of discussion for book clubs.
.The first half of the book - Jessie's life and coming of age - rang true. The dialogue seemed to belong to a sixteen year old, as did the situations and attitudes. It was in the second half of the book that I felt Rogers lost me a bit. I just didn't buy into Jessie's reasoning for choosing to die. (But this is where all my questioning started!)
Those looking for dystopian fiction a la Hunger Games won't find it here. Rather, you'll find a book that make you think.
The Testament of Jessie Lamb was long listed for the Man Booker Prize. And is the 26th winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the most prestigious award for science fiction in Britain.
See what others on the TLC tour thought. Full schedule can be found here.
You can find Jane Rogers on Facebook.