Backlist Review: The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

Sunday, September 27, 2015
Author: Jane Rogers
Genre: post-apocalyptic, science fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 256 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: May 15 2012
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3.75/5

Women are dying in their millions. Some blame scientists, some see the hand of God, some see human arrogance reaping the punishment it deserves.

 Jessie Lamb is an ordinary girl living in extraordinary times: as her world collapses, her idealism and courage drive her towards the ultimate act of heroism. If the human race is to survive, it s up to her. But is Jessie heroic? Or is she, as her father fears, impressionable, innocent, incapable of understanding where her actions will lead? 

Set just a month or two in the future, in a world irreparably altered by an act of biological terrorism, The Testament of Jessie Lamb explores a young woman s determination to make her life count for something, as the certainties of her childhood are ripped apart.

My main reaction to this book is a case of "I wish": I wish that I had liked this more. I wish that the characterization had been stronger, more developed so I cared about Jessie's final decision. I wish more had been provided about the initial act of biological terrorism that sets the book into motion and leaves humanity 80-odd years from extinction. As it is, even with my dismay over some of the core elements (main character's unlikeability, the secondary, wholly superfluous plotline revolving around the parentals marriage) to be found in this quick-moving and quick-reading novel, this is a fresh approach to a world-ending apocalypse -- it just isn't carried through the full potential. Jane Rogers certainly succeeds at creating a truly freaky end of the world scenario, and in getting her readers to think about what they would do in just such a dire situation - I just wasn't all that invested in what her invented characters did here.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb certainly starts out well - and with a bang at that. With a concept that sounds like a vague mashup of The Handmaid's Tale (emphasis on feminine importance for their wombs) and Never Let Me Go (organ donation and the outcome from it), I was good to go. With the benefit of one of the more intriguing cold opens I've read so far this year, my interest was piqued from even before chapter one officially started. The idea of MDS ("Maternal Death Syndrome") and its dramatic, mortal effects is a nice, very creative spin on already-popular apocalypse genre, and Rogers' plot allows for intricate and divisive morality maneuvering between people and parties. Unfortunately, this is more of a character-driven novel and I found Jessie's first-person narration to be off-putting so my interest slowly waned as it became more and more concerned with solely her evolutionary arc. (Also, Lamb? Obvious name is obvious. First name is totally cool, though.) The novel is Jessie's epistolary to the unknown future and as a narrative structure, it works well for her voice, story and reveals, if it's not an entirely unique approach. 

Probably 65% of my dislike can be laid solely at the feet of our main character, Jessie. From the outset, she's a remote and somewhat cold narrator, a fact that is only reinforced by her nature towards her parents. She's obviously a complicated girl - that one so isolated would be so incredibly giving? naive? suicidal? speaks volumes of her development. I just couldn't identify with her personality-free narrative. Instead of allying with the closer-in-age main character, it's Jessie's poor, hapless parents that evoke the most sympathy. Jessie's stubborn and seemingly-willful naivety comes off as completely uncaring and apathetic to her understandably distressed parents. I don't expect Jessie to capitulate (hell, that would kill any plot in the book), but she could be infinitely more compassionate to her parents concerns and much more obligatory and explicit about her reasons for why she wants to be a Sleeping Beauty. 

I felt like a lot of the struggle between factions (the scientists vs the environmentals vs the 'Noahs') to be way too heavy-handed. Each side of the tripod is too extreme in their approach so none are really believable, even in this setting. The Testament of Jessie Lamb is a book that can be alternatively thoughtful or frustrating as interesting aspects of the book can be shortchanged for less original and compelling ideas, like the parents. I did like the open-ended nature of the finale as regards to Jessie's personal storyline but felt slightly shortchanged elsewhere. There's not a lot of payoff to finishing this novel - as a reader you're supposed to reflect and make your own decisions about the life and decisions made, but blehhh. In the end, instead of inspiring me to question the M.O. behind all the opposing parties, I just felt that the ideas behind The Testament of Jessie Lamb weren't as fully explored as they could have been.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb is an introspective thinker of a novel and I think reactions will be divided across the board. Some readers will love Rogers's slow and female-targeted approach to the end of humanity and strong if distant main character and others will pick it apart for the misused, cookie-cutter cast, the unnecessary subplots and the lack of answers. To each their own. I can't say that I was entirely happy with this when I finished it, but nor was I filled with rage. I'll more than likely keep an eye out for what else this author will put out in the future without committing myself.  

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