Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Testament of Jessie Lamb - Jane Rogers

Fall is officially here.  There is a definite chill in the air and leaves are starting to turn.  As much as I love summer and wish it could last endlessly, I relish the return of flannel shirts, cardigans, scarves, and music that has a deeper feel than summer bubblegum pop.  Adele has been on my turntable all week.  In that same vein, The Testament of Jessie Lamb seemed to fit perfectly as a transition novel into the colder months.  This is no beach read.  Jessie Lamb is heavy and a bit dark; yet its young central characters still bring an innocence that cannot be ignored in the face of such morbidity.

Jessie Lamb would probably technically be classified as science fiction or a futuristic novel, its scenario could easily take place in our current world.  The book is written as a type of journal for sixteen-year-old Jessie Lamb.  It picks up in a time when every human on the planet has contracted Maternal Death Syndrome, MDS.  The illness lies dormant in everyone except pregnant women.  Upon conception, something in the body is triggered and MDS begins attacking the brain until it literally looks like Swiss cheese.  Pregnancy has become a death sentence and the propagation of the human race seems to be finished.

At first, Jessie is caught up in the reality that, with humanity coming to an end, actions have few consequences.  Her initial stage of dealing with the situation is a callousness to it all; nothing she does will matter.  Unsurprisingly, science finds a way to continue human reproduction.  They are called "Sleeping Beauties."  Scientists discover that if they essentially place pregnant women in a coma, their child can still be carried to term.  Once the baby is delivered, the mother is taken off life support.  The child will still be infected with the MDS of its parents, but its a start.  This revelation and chance for survival spawns dozens of groups hoping to seize this new lease on life as an opportunity to reform the modern lifestyle.  Jessie gets involved with a group of children who blame adults for the state of the world and believe that children should be permitted to start fresh and live separately from their parents.  They blame previous generations for getting them into such dire straits in the first place.  They raise money and awareness and even move into homes of just children.

While Jessie does not adopt this lifestyle whole-heartedly, she joins on in some ways.  The biggest impact on her is the idea that one person can make a difference.  She becomes adamant in her desire to minimize the carbon footprints of herself and others.  Her parents do not take her efforts very seriously, in the same way as many parents view whatever their child's latest phase or obsession is.  Her father, a technician in a lab working with frozen embryos, trusts that science will find a way out of the global catastrophe of terminal pregnancy in due time and, meanwhile, they should not allow it to change the way they live their lives.

It seems that he will be proven right.  Science takes another step.  Scientists now are taken the frozen embryos from around the world that are leftover from IVF treatments or egg/sperm donations or similar procedures and have worked out a way to vaccinate them against MDS.  They are accepting volunteers of young women to carry these babies to term.  The babies will grow to live as the only humans without the disease; the mothers will die.  It is this crusade that Jessie comes to see as her calling.  She sees her purpose to be one of the women who will sacrifice themselves for the continuation of the human race.  Her parents are far from thrilled.

Rogers has, in essence, written a very complex coming of age story.  At the root of things, Jessie is searching for purpose and how she is going to make her impact on the world.  Once she has determined a course of action to do just that, she cannot be dissuaded.  Rogers does a wonderful job capturing the mood of her fictional world.  This is a book that, for me, is better appreciated after you finish it and step back from it.  I was not overly impressed while in the midst.  The ending did not blow me away.  Yet, when I look at Rogers' writing and the way she crafted the story, I am impressed.  As I said at the beginning of this post, this book has ushered in autumn for me and done so well.  Its complexity and requirement of a reader who is looking for more than a quick thrill are what would make me recommend it to a serious reader.  This is not for the light reading Hunger Games fans.  This is book is for people who are willing to work for it.

My only serious complaint: at one point she talks about Blockbuster and there being at least three workers at one time.  Really, Jane Rogers?  Are we supposed to believe that in this modern/future world where science is making such breakthroughs to save the human race that Blockbuster is still not only open but busy enough to warrant three employees working one shift?

What books are you reading to transition into the fall?

Pages: 256
Date Completed: September 16, 2012

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