Review Blog

Oct 10 2012

The testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

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Canongate, 2012. ISBN 0857864181.
(Ages: 12+) Recommended. Dystopian. Just when you think no other interpretation of our bleak future is possible, then along comes this riveting story of a young girl, involved in the fringes of several protest groups, wanting to do something about the women dying, anything to save the world, to stop its descent into nothingness. Women are dying of MDS (Maternal Death Syndrome) once they get pregnant. It has happened suddenly, a girl at school has become pregnant and several days later the school is having a memorial service, Jessie's aunt dies, women are told not to get pregnant, everyone has a birth control implant, and abortion services are made readily available.
The story begins in a locked house, Jessie is handcuffed and secured to the bed by her father while he tries to talk her out of her decision. By degrees she reveals what has happened, both to society at large and to herself as she tries to get her head around the disease and its beginnings. Several of her friends say it's the scientists' fault, they have simply gone too far, and so protest against science; others blame the airports and besiege them; others target the laboratories where animals are being used in experiments. Some women aggressively target scientists and their use of women, as the root of all problems.
But Jessie is unconvinced, and so internally digests all that is going on around her. When societies try to have children born in a way that keeps the foetus alive, but still kills the mother, Jessie is excited as her scientist father explains. She feels that there is something she can do. All her friends are involved in protests, but she feels impelled to become pregnant and carry the child to term, as she dies. She will die to bring a child into the world. She is convinced that she is doing the only thing possible, that she is sacrificing herself for the good of her society. When her father's laboratory announces that they will use the frozen embryos stored around the world in IVF laboratories, and calls for volunteers to house them, Jessie volunteers.
Her testament to her unborn child seeks to explain just why she has done this, and in doing so the reader can in part feel the reasons behind some people's impulse to join causes which may result in their deaths. Symbolism abounds: Jessie's name, the significance of the lamb, a virgin (almost) birth, the woman being the vehicle for one to come, and so on, all have cadence in the stories of heroes. The theme of martyrdom is also too strong to ignore, and many discussions will ensue in classrooms studying this book.
Fran Knight

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