The Testament of Jessie Lamb
by Jane Rogers
Fiction — Speculative
Harper Perennial (HarperCollins)
U.S. Release Date: May 15, 2012
In the not-too-distant future of The Testament of Jessie Lamb, an assumed act of biological terrorism has unleashed a virus on the world that only affects pregnant women. MDS (Maternal Death Syndrome)–a combination of the AIDS virus (immune deficiency) and CJD (Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease)–carries a one hundred percent fatality rate for pregnant women and has made it impossible for new generations to be born, thereby guaranteeing that the human race will become extinct sooner rather than later if no cure is found.
Jessie Lamb is the sixteen-year-old narrator of the story, and she has decided that she is going to save the world. The Testament of Jessie Lamb is the pseudo-journal she is keeping, chronicling both her present situation, and the past events and decisions which have resulted in her current situation and the writing of this personal history/journal.
Using many of today’s hot-button political and social topics–women’s rights, the defining of ethics in a rapidly progressing medical field, religious extremism, animal rights, and the polluting of our environment–Jane Rogers has written a book that is sure to promote lots of thought and discussion. It certainly started a discussion between me and my husband that continued over two days.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the subject matter of The Testament of Jessie Lamb and the amount of thinking and discussion it led to (both with my husband and with BOOK CLUB), I wasn’t particularly happy with the first-person point of view; it severely limited the storyline and the amount of information Rogers could provide, not only about the virus and its effects on the world, but also pertaining to the other characters’ thoughts and actions. A virus of this nature and its long-reaching effects would make for an extremely interesting book using a broader point of view: How were different cultures dealing with the virus, emotionally and psychologically? What were the other characters in the book thinking, but not saying out loud? What exactly were scientists doing in their search for a cure? What would scientists do when they ran out of human volunteers for experimentation? How would they choose new subjects? Was the virus truly designed and released by biological terrorists, or was it maybe a mistake made by scientists that was being covered up? I understand that it would have been a very different book if it had been written with the answers to these questions in mind, but I think I would have enjoyed that book more.
I also had a very hard time sympathizing with Jessie Lamb. I won’t hesitate to say that her decision was a noble one, but it was made selfishly and for all the wrong reasons. Jessie was a very confused and conflicted teenager (as most teenagers are at one point or another), and while I understand why she felt like she needed to do something to contribute to the saving of the human race, I feel like she could have been much less stubborn and much less selfish. For those of you who have read the book, I know that sacrifice and selfishness are typically opposites, but they were very much tied together in Jessie’s decision. It’s hard for me to explain this further without giving too much of the book away, and I try to stay away from spoilers in my reviews. Jessie had so many other options she could have taken in order to make her mark and contribute something to society, but she chose the most extreme option and hurt a lot of people who cared about her in the process.
Because The Testament of Jessie Lamb is told from only Jessie’s point of view, the rest of the characters were really given only minor parts in the story. I would say that Jessie’s father was the most developed character aside from Jessie, but even he could have used more development. This was one of the areas of the book that could have done so much more for the story, with a wider point of view. What were the people in Jessie’s life thinking? How did they feel about her decision? How was everything affecting them?
I enjoyed reading this book, even if only on the basis of the subject matter and the thoughts and discussions it provoked, and I think it’s worth the read just for that reason. It’s quite interesting, and I can see why it was long-listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize. I would definitely recommend The Testament of Jessie Lamb to book clubs, and to anyone who enjoys having their minds stimulated by subjects that they maybe wouldn’t think about otherwise. It’s a decent work of speculative fiction.
(To learn more about Jane Rogers, please visit her official website.)
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