The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
It’s highly unusual for a Young Adult novel to be longlisted for the Booker, but this powerful story did just that back in 2011 and now is finally being published locally. It’s an engaging read that asks many probing questions of adults and teenagers alike.
In a possible not-too-distant future, a virus has been unleashed upon humanity that is carried by all, but only kills women when they become pregnant. Who is to blame and why are questions that are never really answered, but are somehow beside the point as ordinary people try to deal with this brave new world reality.
Jessie and her friends are some of the last of humanity, children born before the virus made pregnancy impossible. They are going to college, but they wonder why they should bother when the world seems to be coming to a grinding halt. The discussions these young adults have, the choices they make, their anger with the way society has let them down, is all dealt with potently and authentically.
The reader is made to empathise with the very different decisions they choose in order to feel their lives have some purpose, in contrast to the adults who primarily get through by pretending it isn’t happening or getting drunk.
Jessie’s father is a scientist at the front line of research into the use of human embryos and ‘sleeping beauties’ — women impregnated either naturally or through IVF and put into a coma so that the baby will gestate and be born before they die. There is fierce debate within society over the ethics of using sleeping beauties and who owns the orphaned child that is born.
Jessie is being held captive at the beginning of the book and this is her testament to the events that led up to her incarceration and why she has made one of the toughest decisions possible in this darkly pessimistic world.
Likened to The Handmaid’s Tale and Never Let Me Go, this book deals with a future not too far along humanity’s current path and forces us to question how it will impact upon the young. It is both a thought provoking read and a powerful cautionary tale. I highly recommend it.
Angela Crocombe is the Children’s Book Buyer at Readings St Kilda, mother to a three year-old, and the author of two books on sustainable living, A Lighter Footprint: A Practical Guide to Minimising your Impact on the Planet and Ethical Eating.