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My Real Children Hardcover – May 20, 2014

4 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“My Real Children has as much in common with an Alice Munro story as it does with, say, Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle . Good novels show us a character's destiny as an expression of who they fundamentally are. What most novels do only once, My Real Children does twice.” ―Lev Grossman

My Real Children starts quietly, then suddenly takes you on two roller-coaster rides at once, swooping dizzily through a double panorama and ending in a sort of super Sophie's Choice. A daring tour de force.” ―Ursula K. Le Guin

“Such a wise book, about sweetness in sorrow, without any sentiment... It's easy to write a sad book, but this one uplifts and sweetens even as it tears your heart to pieces. Astounding work, even by Walton's incredibly high standards.” ―Cory Doctorow

“It amazes me a little, the ease with which such a quiet tale and such spare prose managed to engage my brain, boil my blood, and-- ultimately-- break my heart. Thank you, Ms. Walton, for showing me how it's done.” ―Peter Watts

“A dizzying array of astonishments unfolding, a Chinese box of surprises. Once started, it is extraordinarily difficult to put this book down, even for dinner, even for bed.” ―Jane Yolen

“Jo Walton is inimitable... This book is heartbreaking and hilarious, finding profundity in the most minute personal details and individual meaning in the largest events.” ―Pamela Dean

“An achingly beautiful book... After you read the last page, you will never be able to see any history, yours or the world's, in quite the same way.” ―Susan Palwick

“Breathtakingly good! I really didn't want it to end, but I had to keep turning pages to see how it came out. A novel for grown-ups, even ones who think they 'don't like science fiction.” ―Ellen Kushner

“A wonderfully absorbing book...The characters are very real, the plot as complex as origami, the theme timeless. I lost sleep reading it, and dreamed about it when I did sleep.” ―Delia Sherman

“Lyrical and brilliant. Jo Walton takes "What If" to a new level.” ―Ellen Klages

“My Real Children is about ordinary lives, lives filled with love and heartbreak, parents and children, friends and ideas and books and cooking--and at the same time it's so gripping, so compulsively readable, that you can't wait to find out what happens next... A fascinating, poignant answer to the question everyone asks sooner or later: What if I hadn't made that choice? What if I'd done something differently?” ―Lisa Goldstein

“In her greatest novel, George Eliot attributed the growing good of the world to the actions of ordinary people, to which Jo Walton responds in My Real Children, 'What if?'” ―Sherwood Smith

About the Author

JO WALTON won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2002, and the World Fantasy Award for her novel Tooth and Claw in 2004. Her several other novels include the acclaimed Small Change alternate-history trilogy, comprising Farthing, Ha'penny, and Half a Crown. Her novel Among Others won the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 2012. She is a columnist on Tor.com. A native of Wales, she lives in Montreal.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books (May 20, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765332655
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765332653
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #692,450 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I'm finding it hard to put into words what was so gripping about this book. It is a quiet story, in a still-waters-run-deep way. A woman marries (or doesn't), takes a job (or doesn't), has a same-sex partner (or doesn't), has 3 children (or 4), makes a home here or there, lives through this world event or that one. It is an alternate history story - two of them, really - but the focus is not on the big, sweeping movements of history. Stroke by stroke, in Patricia Cowan's two parallel histories, Jo Walton paints a picture of the way our choices shape our lives, and our lives shape our choices. Really an excellent, thought-provoking book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jo Walton's books always seem to come out around 3.5 stars for me: I like them, but not as much as I want to. I keep coming back because she is a good writer, and because, unlike most fantasy authors, she has a talent for telling a story in one book without padding, and for telling a unique story every time. That holds true here, though again my response was lukewarm.

Patricia Cowan is a very old woman with dementia, but her symptoms go beyond the expected: she remembers two distinct lives, two different partners, two sets of children - who both come to visit her in two different nursing homes. This book follows her throughout both of her lives: through her childhood, to the point of divergence in 1949 (when she accepts a proposal of marriage, or doesn't), and then through alternating chapters in two increasingly different worlds. There are actually two alternate histories here - one a more peaceful and accepting version of 20th century history, the other more violent and ugly. The history plays out in the background, however, in asides while our protagonist goes through her life as either Pat or Trish.

This is a story told largely in summary, as it tries to capture all important events in two different lives in just over 300 pages. In some ways that's a strength, as Walton captures the scope of two entire lives with relatively few words. The children in particular come vividly to life with just a few deft strokes. The way the two lives unfold in counterpoint is clever and well-done, and for narrative summary, the story manages to be quite compelling. On the other hand, this technique also distances the reader from the characters, a problem particularly evident in both of Patricia's relationships.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While I don't have dementia, I do have very vivid dreams. Often, they are powerful enough that it takes me some time as i wake up to unwind what was true in my dreamscape from what is actually real. And as I try to unwind this- I feel like Pat/Trish in this novel.

The framing story is that Pat/Trish has inherited dementia, and is in a nursing home, and is "confused". Part of her confusion is that she distinctly remembers two different and incompatible lives, both with their joys and sorrows. Her own live diverged when she said "yes" or "no" to a marriage proposal; however, while I don't see that her life caused history to change, the world was also very different in these 2 threads, implying a greater range of alternatives than are depicted here.

I really loved that this was so focused on the personal, rather then Saving The World. Pat/Trish's choices do make a difference... but mostly for herself and her families.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..." This book is about that.

One of the most powerful, and best, novels I've ever read.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Books like these… they make me sad. That’s not really an observation on the book as much as my general feelings about books (or movies or television shows) in which we are with an older character near the end of her life looking back over the life that they have lived. In the book the main character actually gets two fully realized lives with lovers, children, friends and the whole nine yards. In one life it’s a crap marriage and some personal tragedies but a fairly nice normal world to live in while in the other it’s a happy personal life but the world itself sucks- nuclear bombs, horrible cancers. For her both of those worlds are currently running together. Which one did she chose? Which one should she have chosen?
Honestly whether Pat or Tricia it’s very well written. You do care about her. It does get kind of boring as it winds down but again most of life gets kind of boring as it winds down- it felt like a lot of reading off a list the last years; people died, people were born, Pat did this, Tricia did that and then the kids did this and that but those books always get me. The other issue for me was she sees the split in her life as whether or not she decides to marry Mark. While I definitely agree it’s a life choice even before she married him I couldn’t see any reason why she would. Meanwhile her partner in the other life is so perfect that she handles being crippled with the kind of aplomb that could be ascribed to a saint. Not much subtly in the romantic partners so when Patricia sums up her question as which life would you chose for me I couldn’t see how there was any question which one a person would chose.
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