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The Testament of Jessie Lamb: A Novel Paperback – May 15, 2012

3.3 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Rogers, the author of Mr. Wroe’s Virgins (1999), offers up a powerful dystopian novel in which pregnancy has become a death sentence. Terrorists have concocted a deadly virus known as MDS, which breaks down the proteins in the brains of pregnant women, killing them long before they are ready to deliver. Sixteen-year-old Jessie Lamb is the daughter of a scientist who is looking for a cure for MDS. She’s also a budding activist, flirting with youth groups that have sprung up in the face of this worldwide disaster. Jessie watches as her best friend, Sal, joins a fervent feminist group while her crush, Baz, gets involved with an increasingly radical animal-rights faction. Both groups are polarized when scientists develop a new program that might allow women to carry babies to term, at the cost of their own lives. But Jessie feels like this could be her way to make a difference, much to her parents’ horror. Long-listed for the Booker Prize, Rogers’ mesmerizing tale is frighteningly timely and bound to spark rich book-club discussions. --Kristine Huntley

Review

“The novel does not set up an elaborate apocalypse, but astringently strips away the smears hiding the apocalypses we really face. Like Jessie’s, it is a small, calm voice of reason in a nonsensical world.” (The Independent)

“Jane Rogers has captured Jessie’s voice brilliantly, alternating a teenager’s solipsism with a growing awareness of the wider world. Jessie’s self-conviction is both admirable and infuriating, and the reader is torn between her clear, unequivocal conclusions and the intricate, heartfelt compromises of her parents.” (Times Literary Supplement (London))

“A powerful dystopian novel…Long-listed for the Booker Prize, Rogers’ mesmerizing tale is frighteningly timely and bound to spark rich book-club discussions.” (Booklist)

“Thought-provoking, smart, real, disturbing, and well-written...A compelling page-turner of a novel.” (Popmatters)

“Echoes of Kazuo Ishiguro’s stealthy novel Never Let Me Go abound, but Rogers works with a more populist tool kit, nailing the tempestuous inner conflicts of a young woman as she discerns the full measure of selfishness required to be selfless.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Beautifully and convincingly written, Jessie’s testament for posterity is truly moving, haunting…a rich, heavy read, full of provocative questions…” (Kirkus Reviews)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Original edition (May 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062130803
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062130808
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,212,764 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
The subject matter of "The Testament of Jessie Lamb" ensures that this is not a comfortable read. Set in the near future, Rogers has imagined a truly terrifying virus that affects pregnant women, known as Maternal Death Syndrome or MDS. Everyone carries this illness but the effects, a cross between AIDS and CJD, ensure that all pregnant mothers will die - without exception. Scientists have found a way to save some of the unborn children, but only by placing their mothers in a chemically induced coma from which they won't recover. Now though, there scientists have also discovered a way of immunising frozen, pre-MDS embryos which, if they can be placed in a willing volunteer, may ultimately allow the survival of the human race. However, the volunteers need to be under 16½ or the likely success rates are too low. Step forward one Jessie Lamb.

The Booker longlist can be relied on to throw up at least one novel on a controversial subject. Last year it was "The Slap". This year it's this novel. There's no doubt it asks awkward and unsettling questions about a variety of issues including the age at which people can take informed decisions, the rights and wrongs of scientific research and animal testing and the right anyone has to chose their own death. There are no easy answers to any of these questions of course.

As you might infer from the title, the story is written from a first person narrative by Jessie. Often with first person narratives it's difficult to get a true steer on the character herself. Effectively she's dealing with the usual teen dramas of arguing parents, failed love and general `what's the point of me?' stuff. She's into environmentalism and vegetarianism, all in the idealistic way of many of her age.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The idea presented in this book is interesting: a world where there are no more births due to a virus of unknown origin. Scientists need to find a way to carry on the human race, otherwise our race will be extinct within lifetime.

Jane Rogers' execution of this idea was poor. My main issue was with the protagonist, Jessie. To put it bluntly, she's a whiny, self-absorbed teenager who thinks she's the most important person in the world. Most of the book is her complaining that she knows better than all the grownups but that no one listens to her, which means they're clearly idiots. The more this character was developed, the less I liked her or cared about the story.

Another huge problem I had with this book was how often the author seemed to want to add animal rights to the story, despite it being unimportant. I'm pretty much going to guess that the author is vegan or an animal rights activist, and wanted to shove it in wherever she could. It was an annoyance.

Third, and this is more of an editing problem than an author one, but I found so many typos that I kept getting distracted from the story.

And lastly, the book is so predictable that it's ridiculously boring. After reading the first 50 pages I had it figured out.

Do yourselves a favor and read something else. There are a lot of amazing books within this genre that are significantly better.
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I highly suspect that if I had read this book while in my teens (disregarding the unlikely event of a time warp), I might have been far more sympathetic towards the main character, Jesse, because I would likely have empathized with her deep desire to help save the world. However, now in my cynical sixties, I find Jesse to be dangerously idealistic, self centered and much akin to the radical extremists who terrorized her futuristic world and who currently terrorize ours. I find so many parallels between Jesse's emotional responses to the perils of her times and the prevailing and debilitating fears -- both real and imagined -- of today's youths who turn to suicide for escape. Because suicide is exactly what Jesse has chosen, although she paints this decision with a palette of socially redeeming colors, convinced as she is that she is helping to save all humanity from the curse inflicted by bio-terrorists. Rubbish. I do not applaud Jesse's acts, probably because I identify so much with her parents. How she rebels against them and hurts them so deeply far outweighs what minute good her sacrifice might do for humanity. If any at all. Jesse's own words reflect the thoughts of so many people who are about to end their lives: "I'm enjoying the way it is receding, all worries becoming flimsy, as easy to brush away as cobwebs." This book actually appears to encourage suicide! As I was reading, I kept hoping for a morally satisfactory ending. It didn't happen. I sincerely hope, for the sake of folks who may be contemplating ending their own lives, that this book does NOT become a movie. Any success it may have at the box office could result in more tragic endings for those on the verge of the ultimate escape.
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Format: Paperback
The idea behind this book has potential - a world-wide virus that kills all pregnant women is just one more catastrophe to add to our 21st century list of woes that include global warming, terrorism, exploitation of animals and the environment, etc. 16-year-old Jessie Lamb, on the cusp of adulthood, is tired of feeling helpless about the messed up world of adults, and she want to take action in a way that will actually make a difference. A chance to do something decisive comes her way - a chance to make her own decision, to do something to make this world better, but at the cost of her life. Her parents feel, as any sane parent would, that she's throwing her life away in a fit of teenage drama, making a decision that she won't even live to regret later.

The story has all of the typical themes of teenage angst and parental tension, placed in a dramatic, mildly dystopic setting. But for the most part the characters are shallow caricatures of various extreme views. The most interesting relationship in the book is between Jessie and her father, but the tensions in that relationship are made to just poof away in an extremely absurd ending, during which a weakened 16-year old Jessie can somehow get her father, a healthy, middle aged man who is no push-over, to lock himself up while she escapes to her death.

I wanted to like this book, but the unintentionally implausible plotting and the juvenile characterization turned me off, and I finished the book in disgust. The author says she was inspired in part by Philip Roth's great novel of father-daughter tension, American Pastoral - go read that much better book instead of this one.
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