BOOK CLUB – Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

Welcome to BOOK CLUB, a joint venture between me and Jen from Devourer of Books.  Today we are discussing The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers which is being  published by Harper Perennial next month.

 

About The Testament of Jessie Lamb:

A rogue virus that kills pregnant women has been let loose in the world, and nothing less than the survival of the human race is at stake.

Some blame the scientists, others see the hand of God, and still others claim that human arrogance and destructiveness are reaping the punishment they deserve. Jessie Lamb is an ordinary sixteen-year-old girl living in extraordinary times. As her world collapses, her idealism and courage drive her toward the ultimate act of heroism. She wants her life to make a difference. But is Jessie heroic? Or is she, as her scientist father fears, impressionable, innocent, and incapable of understanding where her actions will lead?

Set in a world irreparably altered by an act of biological terrorism, The Testament of Jessie Lamb explores a young woman’s struggle to become independent of her parents. As the certainties of her childhood are ripped apart, Jessie begins to question her parents’ attitudes, their behavior, and the very world they have bequeathed her.

If you plan on participating in today’s BOOK CLUB, please consider subscribing to comments at the bottom of the page, and check back throughout the day as more questions are added to the post.

Let’s go!

  • What were your general impressions of the book?
  • Did you think about the title of the book at all? Did it shape your experience and thoughts while reading? How?
  • The Testament of Jessie Lamb  is filled with a number of issues that are particularly resonant with us today. Which concepts and themes did you find yourself returning to throughout the novel’s progression.
  • What kinds of questions did you have during your reading? Were they answered?
  • What was your reaction to who was holding Jesse captive? Were you surprised? Did you feel as if her kidnapper’s reaction was justified? How would you have handled the situation?
  • Jesse’s father feels as if she has been brainwashed into her position, and there are many ethical decisions concerning the Sleeping Beauties and whether they are being taken advantage of. How did you feel about the lab and the doctors there? Did they taking advantage? Are Jesse and The Sleeping Beauties able to make the decisions they did? Should they be allowed?

Read Reviews At: Devourerof Books - Must Read Faster

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

15 review copies of The Testament of Jessie Lamb  were provided by Harper Perennial in order to facilitate this discussion. Thank you so much!

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59 Responses to “BOOK CLUB – Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers”

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  1. So, this book and I didn’t get off to the best start. Something wasn’t quite clicking for me initially. I think it was a combination of the font used for Jessie’s diary/journal (seriously) and the fact that the Britishness of the whole thing was just slightly less accessible for me. Once I got 50 pages in or so, though, the story took over and I ended up enjoying it.

    The stuff being brought up by FLAME seemed really relevant in light of what is now being referred to as the GOP War on Women: patriarchy, decisions and pressure on the part of men on how women should use their bodies. I’m not sure it was actually as much a part of the MDS situation as it is our current political situation, but having FLAME discuss it made the connection, and brought another level of discussability to this book.

    I didn’t expect the identity of Jessie’s kidnapper initially, but I did guess it before we actually had it confirmed, so I wasn’t at all surprised. I’m not even sure it was a particularly extreme reaction, since he felt he only had to stop her from doing what she wanted to do for so long before he ruined her chances completely. It wasn’t as if he was going to hold her captive for the rest of her life, I think he really just wanted a chance to talk some sense into her, even deprogram her. Of course, he was part of the problem with making her want to do it in the first place, so that made any attempted deprogramming harder.

    I don’t think there was brainwashing per se, but I do think that, to a certain extent, the Sleeping Beauties program preyed on the idealism of teenagers. Who didn’t want to save the world when they were 16? Jessie’s father really was quite a hypocrite, though, because he was all for the program when it was OTHER people’s daughters who were volunteering.

    • “I don’t think there was brainwashing per se, but I do think that, to a certain extent, the Sleeping Beauties program preyed on the idealism of teenagers. Who didn’t want to save the world when they were 16? Jessie’s father really was quite a hypocrite, though, because he was all for the program when it was OTHER people’s daughters who were volunteering.”

      THIS! He felt it was good enough for other girls but not for his own. That’s a hypocrite right there ladies and gentleman! Like as a parent, I can see and feel the need to protect your children, but his actions and his reactions made me angry. If he thinks it’s wrong, then it’s wrong for everyone! The end.

      • Yeah, I wasn’t so angry with his reaction to Jessie wanting to do it, but with the fact he was so supportive of it before it hit home.

        • Amy says:

          I had the same reaction, Jen. I also felt his support and excitement about the program had an impact on Jessie and added to her wanting to volunteer. I think her father’s failure to think, even for a second, that Jessie might get the idea to volunteer, at least think about it shows how caught up Jessie’s father is in his life and work and how, as Jessie said to him, he doesn’t know her as well as he thinks he does.

          • Good point. They both were too wrapped up in their own lives to even think about Jessie’s..

          • Nicole says:

            I really felt her dad, more so than I got that feeling from the mom. Yes, he was being hypocritical but I think many would feel the same way in his place. He’s getting caught up in the science and his job without thinking of it from the personal responsibility or consequence. Her certainly isn’t looking as close to home as his daughter. There is a huge difference between what is fair and our personal reactions. Locking her up the way he did may have been extreme, but he was a father at the end of his rope. I wonder why the age of consent for something like that was 16. That was one part that I needed to have more concrete details. Yes at that age the girls could viable produce children, but what other laws would have supported them making that type of decision at that age without parental consent?

            • kamo says:

              I put my thoughts on this up a week ago, and found this site via Wendy’s. Glad I did :)

              On to the book…

              “I wonder why the age of consent for something like that was 16.”

              This was the main sticking point for me. It’s not detailed anywhere, there’s not even a token handwaving effort to explain it away. Any kind of reason, no matter how flimsy, would have given the plot some sort of figleaf to hide behind, and let me as a reader move on with the rest of it.

              The, er, ‘regular’ age of consent in the UK is 16, but you can’t drive until you’re 17, or buy drink or cigarettes until 18. At 16 I still needed a note from my Mum to go on school trips.

              The main theme of the book is taking responsibility for decisions. I think you’re not necessarily meant to agree with Jessie’s choice, but somehow respect her ability to do so. An ability she frankly, legally, wouldn’t have. That single plot hole undermines everything, for me at least.

              • Karen White says:

                But wasn’t the issue from the science POV that older than 16 the babies didn’t have as much of a chance?

                • kamo says:

                  That may have been the author’s intent, but it didn’t pan out like that for me, I’m afraid. Nicole’s last question really nails it –

                  “what other laws would have supported them making that type of decision at that age without parental consent?”

                  To which the answer is: as it stands, none.

                  Maybe it’s because I know people involved with vivisection and medical ethics, and know just how rigorously they take these kind of ethical questions, and how tightly this stuff is legislated for. 16 year-olds are still children in the UK, legally speaking. They can’t participate in trials for face-wash without their parents’ consent (that’s a real example, btw). In the face of that, the issue of whether it’s likely to be more successful for younger subjects is irrelevent.

                  Maybe I’m just being overly literal and not working hard enough to suspend my disbelief. But even just a single sentence would have been enough, just something to hold on to; ‘They’ve enacted emergency laws…’

                  Nothing like that is included though, despite ample opportunity. And unfortunately that renders pretty much everything else moot. IMHO.

        • Karen White says:

          Totally agree with the above points. Both of Jessie’s parents were terribly weak people.

          • The mother was fairly weak as a character, as well. I didn’t get a good sense of her, other than her vague cheating and her concern for her sister.

            • Amy says:

              I agree about the mom, Jen. I didn’t for the mother, at least what little there was of her in the book. I was annoyed with her, too, because she was so involved with her sister’s life she basically ignored Jessie. It’s sad and troubling what was going on with Mandy but when your 16-year old tells you she’s volunteering to be a Sleeping Beauty, I’d think mom would snap to attention. Not Jessie’s mom.

            • Nicole says:

              I don’t think that I got the sense that she was a weak character so much so that she was weak in character. From the beginning it seems as if Jessie’s parents argued all the time and were preoccupied with their own relationship, but her dad made much more of an effort with her, while her mom spent all her time complaining to the sister and conducting her affair. She just seemed rather self-absorbed. Even when Jessie’s dad left, she didn’t really talk to Jessie about that either. She was mostly concerned with whether Jessie’s dad had gotten in touch. It didn’t seem that she put too much thought in anything other than her own loneliness and when he was coming home to her- she didn’t even try to explain the situation to her daughter. Mand seemed as though she were much more of a support system to Jessie.

              • Karen White says:

                Oh, yes, I didn’t mean the writing was weak, that they were weak characters. I meant that they were weak people. Self-absorbed mom, work-absorbed dad.

        • Jessica M says:

          I had the same reaction that you did, Jen. I understood his reaction to her decision to volunteer, but it should have come as less of a surprise to him. I don’t know that I think he was a horrible hypocrite, but I think it was incredibly naive on his part to think that his excitement and enthusiasm for the work he was doing wouldn’t translate into at least the germ of an idea in Jessie’s mind, especially given that she was already involved with YOFI and other social and political movements, trying to make a difference in the world. Dad making the Sleeping Beauty option seem like such a great way to make a difference probably only pushed her towards volunteering even more. Like Amy said, it’s like he (and Jessie’s mom) are just too wrapped up in themselves to realize what’s going on.

          • Justice says:

            He reminded me of some of my friends’ fathers growing up. He had this moral stance that what he was doing was world-altering and critical, but he wasn’t personally affected by the consequences until Jessie made her decision. I also thought he had that mentality of “it’s great for other girls, but you’re better than this.”

    • Nicole says:

      As far as the Britishisms, I got caught up on college and what that meant , and why she was there at 16.

    • Sara Kovach says:

      Yeah, I was upset with Jessie’s dad for his hypocritical views as well. I would probably try to prevent my daughter from volunteering as well – might even go as far as kidnapping myself, but I doubt I would have been so supportive of the Sleeping Beauty program either.

      I really thought that Jessie would change her mind in the end. It sure sounded like she was wavering anyway – especially after her aunt died.

    • Jessica M says:

      I definitely agree that a lot of the stuff being brought up in this book seemed really relevant in light of what is going on in our political arenas today — I actually thought about that a lot throughout, and couldn’t seem to get it out of my head. It just seems like such a timely story in some ways. Like you said, Jen, the patriarchal decision-making and the way men were telling/pressuring women on how they should use their bodies was too familiar. I was actually kind of creeped out by Golding; there wasn’t really anything particularly creepy about him I guess, but I got this icky feeling about how he was encouraging Jessie and the girls in their decisions to volunteer.

  2. ** What were your general impressions of the book?
    I loved it. It was thought provoking, well written, and in some parts really intense. I think I devoured it in less than two hours! Very good opinion of it.
    ** Did you think about the title of the book at all? Did it shape your experience and thoughts while reading? How?
    I thought the title of the book was a clear hint as to what was happening. I think if it weren’t for the fact I was reading it at 10pm (during the read-a-thon) I would have caught on quicker! lol The title seems..final. It does set the tone of the book. I hope that makes sense?
    **The Testament of Jessie Lamb is filled with a number of issues that are particularly resonant with us today. Which concepts and themes did you find yourself returning to throughout the novel’s progression.
    The environment, women’s rights, children’s rights, there were so many THINGS going on in this book it’s hard to pin down all of them. With the Sleeping Beauties program I was saddened by these choices these women, girls, had to make or were forced to make. I think that the biological testing aspect definitely can be relevant to today.
    **What kinds of questions did you have during your reading? Were they answered?
    I definitely was not sure who (at first) was her captive. I was shocked to find out who it was, especially given their occupation and ideas.
    **What was your reaction to who was holding Jesse captive? Were you surprised? Did you feel as if her kidnapper’s reaction was justified? How would you have handled the situation?
    I was somewhat surprised, considering it was his job to do that to other girls. I have mixed feelings about it. It seems selfish to keep her from her choice and her decision but I can still sympathize.
    **Jesse’s father feels as if she has been brainwashed into her position, and there are many ethical decisions concerning the Sleeping Beauties and whether they are being taken advantage of. How did you feel about the lab and the doctors there? Did they taking advantage? Are Jesse and The Sleeping Beauties able to make the decisions they did? Should they be allowed?
    The definitely were not thinking about the girls best interests. They seemed too eager to get over the loopholes and push them through the process. I can see where Jesse’s father could see her as brainwashed, but if she was brainwashed, wouldn’t the other girls be the same? Again, his intentions seemed selfish. I can understand them, but they biased.

    • You make a good point about the finality of the title suggesting the ending of the book, I didn’t even think of it like ‘last will and testament,’ but I’m sure that must have been what Rogers was going for.

    • Amy says:

      I thought the same thing about the title. I guessed that Jessie’s life was going to end in some way or other based on the title. But we don’t actually know if it does. Jessie’s assumes so and I realize I did too!

    • Nicole says:

      I felt the same way that you did Melissa. I got into it right away and it was a fairly quick read for me. I also sympathized a lot with the dad, though I had mixed feelings on the science, etc. I was also a bit taken aback by his contempt for the Sleeping Beauties considering that all of them were going to benefit from their sacrifice.

    • Jessica M says:

      I thought the same thing about the title, though it took me a while to figure it out. Once Jessie put things in motion for volunteering, the title finally clicked for me. At that point, I was pretty sure I knew how the story was going to end too.

  3. wendy says:

    Well, I am sorry to say that this book was not one to which I related very well. I don’t know if it was Jesse’s voice or if maybe it was just too depressing for me right now, but I read through about 120 pages and then quit.

    Despite not finishing the book, I think I can answer some of the questions.

    I though the topic of the book was quite relevant to what is happening politically in the US with women’s rights. It was a bit shocking to think about how cavalier Jesse’s father was about The Sleepy Beauty program – children can be born without the virus – YAY! Oh, but their mothers will die – Oh well. Of course, when it came to his own daughter, his feelings were different.

    I figured out very early that Jesse was being held by her father…and I also figured out why before I was told. This is part of why I did not like the book – there was no real tension in it for me.

    As far as brainwashing, per se, I do believe that media distorts thinking. I wouldn’t call it brainwashing, but Jesse was quite involved with a militant group and they strongly advocated their own position. We see this in lots of radical groups. I don’t believe in the phrase brainwashing, but I think people can be unduly influenced…and especially young people who tend to be quite idealistic.

    • Nicole says:

      Wendy, I don’t know if you got to the part where Jessie’s dad takes her to visit The Sleeping Beauties, but I was really rather appalled by the way he viewed them. A lot of contempt and very detached from the girls as people.

  4. So I have a question. Jessie is 16 throughout the book, and it definitely deals with growing up, independence, etc. Do you think this is YA? Why or why not?

    • wendy says:

      I definitely would classify this as YA – in fact, even though I did not love the book, I think a lot of young women would love it.

      For me, Jesse’s voice would appeal to a young audience. The whole idea of rebelling against adults, grappling with issues of growing up and independence…these are things that young adults want to read about.

    • Amy says:

      I think this book is YA. I think many young people, women and men, will relate to this book, to the idea that their parents generation and other older generations have made a mess of things and it’s the younger generations who a will feel the brunt of it.

      I think rebelling against your parents and adults, wanting to be independent of them, believing they are irresponsible etc. is omething many young people Jessie’s age will relate to while still loving their parents like Jessie does.

    • Sara Kovach says:

      I do think of it as YA, however, I think that the YA should be mature enough to handle the issues involved. I think it comes down to knowing the individual.

    • I thought it was MORE an adult book than a YA book, but only barely. Not because the content was too difficult for YA, but because the writing just felt more adult than YA, even with the young protagonist. I think the marketing of the book could probably have gone either way, though.

      • Justice says:

        I agree with you, Jen. It seemed to tip over to more adult writing. I do think it could be successfully sold to both sets!

  5. Karen White says:

    1) What were your general impressions of the book?
    Like Jen, I had a hard time getting started with this one. Not the font so much :), but I kept being reminded of ROOM which creeped me out. Once I got into Jessie’s head, and absorbed what all was going on in their world, I was very drawn in. I feel like the book does a few things quite well: take the everyday separation of parent/child and BLOW it up with much higher stakes, explore some environmental, health, religious, etc. issues that are really only a few steps away and throw down some interesting ethical arguments. In the About the Book section at the end, Rogers says that she had thought of making Jessie a suicide bomber, “But I decided that readers might be side-tracked by politics, and might judge Jessie’s behavior as right or wrong depending on whether they agreed with her cause.” I think her strategy was very successful – the ethical questions are more “pure” because they are (at present, anyway) theoretical.

    2) Did you think about the title of the book at all? Did it shape your experience and thoughts while reading? How?
    The title was curious to me at first, but as I read, I, too began to see the inevitability of Jessie’s decision, and the title made sense.

    3) The Testament of Jessie Lamb is filled with a number of issues that are particularly resonant with us today. Which concepts and themes did you find yourself returning to throughout the novel’s progression.
    As Melissa said, there are SO many issues are present. What really got me was how each group blamed the OTHER issue for creating the problem. That, to me, is a testament to the sad state of affairs we are in today. No one takes responsibility. And in that way, I was perversely in support of Jessie and her decision. As her parent I would be horrified, and I know her thinking is idealistic, but her heart was in the right place and she took responsibility for it. So sad and angry that her Dad was unable to do the same.
    4)What kinds of questions did you have during your reading? Were they answered?
    I got a little confused on the timeline – partly because of the jumping back and forth to Jessie’s captivity, but also because at the beginning she was doing her exams and then suddenly she was in college. Also at the top of Chapter 1 (94) it seemed there were suddenly a lot of new babies and I had thought that the Sleeping Beauties were a brand new program. I also got confused about the whole Sleeping Beauty program related to the program with the new vaccination – was that a different program or a variation?
    5) What was your reaction to who was holding Jesse captive? Were you surprised? Did you feel as if her kidnapper’s reaction was justified? How would you have handled the situation?
    I figured out that it was Dad before it was revealed, but not from the beginning. I thought his reaction was extreme and not really thought through. Both the parents were pretty reactive. Again, I think this part of the book takes what is an almost typical parent/child separation and puts an extreme on it. I hope that I would behave more thoughtfully. It is a parent’s nightmare.
    6) Jesse’s father feels as if she has been brainwashed into her position, and there are many ethical decisions concerning the Sleeping Beauties and whether they are being taken advantage of. How did you feel about the lab and the doctors there? Did they taking advantage? Are Jesse and The Sleeping Beauties able to make the decisions they did? Should they be allowed?
    I think one of the problems with medical and health research today is when scientists and people in power feel that just because we CAN do something, we SHOULD. For instance, with the caveat that I was able to conceive my children naturally, I do think that there are huge unexplored ethical problems with the many ways that babies are being created today. Not just that so many orphans languish unadopted, but no one knows what repercussions may be in our future. Same with drug testing and end of life issues. We continue to acquire power over life and death, but to what end? I don’t have answers, but it concerns me that so many questions go unanswered.

    I’m glad I read this book. It wasn’t “fun” but it was provocative, and I’m glad I was prodded to think about these issues.

    • Amy says:

      Karen, you pointed out how each group blamed the other for the bad state of affairs… I noticed that, too. I thought it was partly an indication of why things were so bad, nobody agrees, everyone wants to blame and nobody wants to take responsibility. I think pits and pieces of that issue could be seen at the first YOFI meeting with all th arguing and shouting and no meeting of the minds on what issue they should tackle. It also comes up with the babies born to the Sleeping Beauties and the various people fighting to raise the child: the parents of the SB, the sperm donor, the donors parents etc.
      Nobody agrees with anybody, there’s no consensus hence chaos everywhere.

    • Amy says:

      Karen, I have similar feelings about medical and health research and scientists and doctors doing something just because it can be done. I think it’s frightening how far the medical filed has advanced and especially some of the things they’re working on for so many reasons including the ethics around issues of life and death..

  6. Amy says:

    I like the questions posed about this book and have some answers below. But I am still thinking about what I read! The more I think about it, the more that occurs to me regarding the issues and themes raised in the story!

    **It took me several chapters to get into the book. At first, despite bioterrorism and some other themes, Jessie felt very young to me particularly at the first YOFI meeting with all of the arguing and shouting out and complaining about parents. But I became more involved with the story as it developed. And when I thought one of Jessie’s parents was involved with her being locked up, the book became more interesting to me. I also though the FLAME meeting was interesting and raised some valid points.

    **I thought the title highlighted how important Jessie felt it was to volunteer and on some level that she felt she was chosen to do this. I think that awful guy Iain tried to influence Jessie to make her feel heroic, important and special so that he could use her. I also felt from the beginning that Jessie would go through with ending her life because the title indicates this is her final word, the end of her voice, this is the entire story of Jessie Lamb.

    **The more I thought about this story, the more issues and themes and occurred to me. There are so many that come up in the course of this story. I thought MDS as a bioterrorism weapon was extremely powerful and frightening. And such simple and effective weapon. The science discussed in the book really interested me, too. The idea of how women could still give birth to healthy babies and continue the human race yet had to sacrifice themselves I thought mocked fertility issues a little bit but on the flip side, emphasized how vital new life is to the continuation of the human race. It also made me think of the possibility that our existence could actually be threatened by the irresponsible treatment of the environment and natural resources. Other issues and themes are women’s role and treatment in society, male/female relationships; experimentation on animals; manipulating people to do what you want especially women, young and older.

    **I thought early on in the book that Jessie’s dad or mom or both were holding her captive so I wasn’t surprised when it was her dad. I understood why her dad did what he did. I don’t agree with it although I think if I actually had children I might agree with what he did. But I think Jessie’s dad was wrong to support the SB program except when Jessie wanted to volunteer. Definitely hypocritical.

    **I don’t think young women were being brain-washed but I think young women were targeted because they’re more easily influenced and manipulated especially with many of them already rebelling against adults. Jessie and Rosa were manipulated by Golding when he told them about his idea to use orphan embryos. I also didn’t think that one counseling session was enough to determine if a 16-year old was volunteering for good reason. Rosa, for instance seemed to be looking for a way out of life without committing suicide outright.

    • Nicole says:

      I think Rosa’s story was a particular travesty. She showed signs of being self-aware and had insight into why she wanted to passively end her life, but she was clearly troubled. The counselors should never have cleared her to participate.

      • Amy says:

        I completely agree, Nicole. Rosa needed intense counseling and help, not a way to end her life. Rosa’s family life sounded okay, pretty normal at first. I initially thought Rosa was possibly too gung-ho about volunteering and I thought it odd that her mother was so supportive of Rosa volunteering her life. When I read the reality of Rosa’s situation it really hit me how poorly the volunteer program was being run. So many issues were glossed over by Golding and his team. Had Rosa’s mother been a good parent, she would have had a lot of questions for Golding and problems with the program (I think and hope!)

  7. Heather says:

    While I can see why this was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize (content, relatively good writing), I wasn’t blown away by it. I liked it very much for the subjects it broached, but I was disappointed with the choice of a first-person narrator. I think that writing the book in the first-person POV severely limited what the book could have done in terms of subject matter. I would much rather have read about the virus and how different people were handling it–and how the world was dealing with it–from a broader point of view. I think it could have made a much better book that way.

    I viewed the title as describing (what turned out to be) the letter Jessie was writing to her unborn child.

    I did figure out early on who Jessie’s “kidnapper” was, and I wasn’t surprised. Although I wouldn’t like to be held against my will by anyone, either, I do think that Jessie overreacted a bit, and I think it was selfish of her not to even discuss her feelings with her father to his face. I was a teenager once, and I distinctly remember what it was like, and I know she was playing the whole, “But you just wouldn’t understand” game, but it annoyed me–and he was only asking her to wait one more year. And while I think her father was a bit hypocritical, I will also argue that it took his daughter to volunteer to make him actually THINK about the consequences of the Sleeping Beauty program. As a scientist, he was excited about the progress they were making, and I believe that he just hadn’t really thought things all the way through. I think maybe it wasn’t so much a case of hypocrisy as it was a case of, “Well, shoot–I hadn’t looked at it this way before.” He had his eyes opened, and he changed his mind, and I think that’s the way it should happen. If someone has a strong opinion about something, but is given more information or a different point of view that makes the person think differently about their opinion, it’s important to allow that person to say, “I’ve made a mistake. I didn’t think about it that way before. I’m changing my opinion.” without always labeling the person as a hypocrite.

    There are so many things I have to say about this book, so I’m trying not to write my own book here. I do think Jessie was brainwashed, in a sense, but she wasn’t brainwashed by anyone but herself. She had convinced herself that it was up to her to save the world, and I think she became delusional about it. I also think that she was very selfish–over and over again in the book she talked about how much she just wanted to die, and I think that she finally found a way to do that while convincing herself that joining the Sleeping Beauty program was a noble way to do it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t change the fact that she just didn’t want to deal with the world and what was happening to it, and her main wish was still to leave it all behind. She convinced herself that she was going to be a martyr, but martyrdom can’t be chosen in selfishness, I don’t think. She had herself convinced of so many things that she couldn’t guarantee would happen: her baby WOULD be a girl (really?) and it WOULD survive (50/50 chance) to become a mother to other children someday. What if the baby is a boy? If it is a girl, who can say whether or not she will want to have children someday? Also, she pretty much told her parents, “You will take care of the baby when he/she is born.” She didn’t even ask them if that was something they’d be willing to do. There were a bunch of other things Jessie could have done to help solve the problem of the virus, but she wanted to be rid of the whole situation, plain and simple. Because of these things (and others that I’m sure I’m forgetting), I just couldn’t sympathize with Jessie’s character.

    As far as the ethical side of the Sleeping Beauty program, I think there were a ton of things wrong with it. There is a fine line between ethical and unethical in the medical world, and this will always be a point of contention. While I do think that teenage girls are capable of making adult decisions (it is only recently that we’ve started treating our children as though they should be dependent on us until they are legal adults), it was also obvious that they knew they would get a bunch of girls who had nothing left to lose, in a sense. And what happens when the volunteers run out? The book mentioned that they were looking to women who were already incapable of making the decision on their own (women who were already mentally incapacitated, etc.), and then who comes after those women? The poor? The disadvantaged? Those who society decides aren’t important enough to keep among the living? This made me think of the medical testing on African-American women in our not-too-distant past, and it bothered me quite a bit. I also somewhat tended to agree with FLAME about women always making the big sacrifices. While I don’t believe in animal testing for superficial things like makeup, shampoo, general body care products, I don’t necessarily disagree with animal testing in cases like this one, as long as it is done as humanely as possible. I am an animal lover and get very angry with random animal abuse and mistreatment, but I won’t deny the fact that when it comes to something like this, I will take human life over animal life if it came down to the survival of the human race (my children included).

    I have a ton of other thoughts about the book and the subject matter, but I don’t want to completely take over Nicole’s blog. Haha! All in all, I enjoyed the book, but I didn’t particularly like Jessie and I think the book could have been better if it had been written in a different point of view.

    • I wish we’d had more of a chance to explore those possibilities that Jessie’s dad brought up of the mentally incapacitated, etc. women being used as Sleeping Beauties. That is definitely one place this book could have benefited from a wider POV.

    • Nicole says:

      Feel free to take over Heather!

    • Karen White says:

      So interesting, I had a completely different experience with Jessie and her decision process.
      What I noticed was that she was bound and determined to “DO” something. I felt like this was connected in some ways to her adolescent needs, but also part of who she was. And because of this need to act, she was drawn to volunteer. I didn’t get that she wanted to die, I got that she wanted to make a difference, she wanted to be in control of her actions, and that this was the clearest thing she could do. She tried volunteering with YOFI with mixed results – this decision was cleaner in many ways.
      Again, I know she’s being idealistic and if it were one of my daughters I’d freak out (weirdly, we were trying to explain suicide bombers to our kids at dinner last night). But in the context of the story, I understood how she got where she did.

      • Justice says:

        I also felt like she was compelled by this need to take action in whatever way – big or small – she could. For her, this was the ultimate act of volunteering.

  8. I did have to wonder why they weren’t trying to implant 2 or 3 fetuses at a time, instead of just 1. For one thing, better chance of implantation. For another, multiple births! She made a big deal at one point how every woman needs to have 2.1 babies for sustainable population, so multiple births would certainly help.

    • Heather says:

      That’s a very good point and one I hadn’t thought of. Maybe because there were a limited number of embryos they could use for the first round of Sleeping Beauties?

      • Yeah, that’s the only reason I could come up with. You’d think they would have at least mentioned ‘once this becomes more successful, we’ll implant X number and have multiple births!’ though.

    • Sara Kovach says:

      Excellent point! Many times with fertility treatments, there is an overabundance of chance that multiple births will occur. Kind of strange that this didn’t get mentioned at some point.

  9. Amanda says:

    Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past the first 50 pages. The main character had such a stilted tone, I wasn’t able to connect at all with her…a fatal downfall for any book. If I can’t connect to the plot or the story within 50 pages, I have to put it down. Such a bummer too, I had high hopes for the book.

    • That’s too bad. The first 50 pages were tough for me, it was JUST after that that I got into the story.

    • wendy says:

      I think you and I are in agreement here, Amanda. I struggled to read as far as I did and had I not been reading for a book club, I think I would have quit around page 50 too.

      That said, I wouldn’t tell people not to read the book. Just from the discussion here, I think this is a book which many people will connect with and want to read – I think the issues are important (actually disturbing!!).

      It just was not my cuppa tea!

  10. Jessica M says:

    I have about 50 pages left to finish the book and won’t be getting to it until this evening (I’m actually in class right now and have been all day) — but I wanted to drop in and see how things are going. The discussion looks really interesting so far, and I’ll be back this evening to chime in. I will admit, I’m struggling a little bit with it though — I can get into the book for short stints, but once I put it down, I find myself kind of apathetic to pick it back up.

  11. Sara Kovach says:

    Such a thought provoking book – I got wrapped up in it immediately. I must say that my mind was on the story all the time – still is off and on. The topics were so deep – too deep really – to let go. I can’t say that the title really had any impact on me or my reading.

    I guessed the kidnapper early on. I know I probably would have done the same thing if my daughter had told me that she was volunteering. I am usually open minded, but this goes a little further than I could have handled. I would have freaked and gone extreme myself. – so justified – yes! The only difference is that I would not have supported it for any young girls. And, the part that really ticked me off was the suggestion he had of using mentally impaired women. That really upset me.

    I really had a moral tug of war in myself trying to figure out how they should handle the situation. I agree sometimes that scientists try to play God and often go too far. However, if it were not for these scientists, we would not have the cures for various illnesses/diseases that we have now. So, as with everything else – there are the good point and the bad – we often choose not to face the bad unless it involves us directly. I am glad I read this book simply so I was forced to think about such ideas.

    • Jessica M says:

      I definitely agree with your last sentence, Sara — I’m quite glad I read this book just because it got me thinking about the issues involved in ways I don’t think I would have otherwise.

  12. Jessica M says:

    My general impressions of the book are kind of mixed. When I picked up the book to read it, it took me a few chapters to get into it, but the story picked up interest for me. But once I set it down, I didn’t find myself reaching to pick it back up like I normally would with a book I found really compelling. It was like every time I picked it up to read, I was engrossed, but it fell off my radar when I set it down and wasn’t reading it. I’m not sure why this was the case. I thought it was pretty well-written, and the story was an interesting idea. Jessie and the other characters, I think, are probably to blame — I didn’t connect to Jessie as much as I wish I had.

    I didn’t really think much of the title until Jessie really sets out to volunteer. It took me a little bit, but once I figured out that it meant testament as in last will and testament, I thought it was fitting and a great title. It did mean that I was pretty sure of how the story would end, but I think that became clear to me from the story before that point anyways.

    Like Jen mentioned in her comment above, I found a lot of interesting ties to what is going on in our current political climate with the “war on women” and disputes over what women can and can’t do with their bodies, and over who should decide what falls into those categories.

    I did figure out who was keeping Jessie active before it was revealed, but only right before. I wasn’t surprised, but a little taken aback at the fact that her dad would be holding her hostage. Once I figured out why, it made complete sense to me — he was desperate to keep her from volunteering, and was just a desperate dad at the end of his rope. I don’t know that what he did was great, or even justified, but I can definitely understand why he did it.

    I felt uneasy about the labs and doctors. Golding especially gave me the willies, though I don’t know that I can pinpoint exactly why. I was uncomfortable with the Sleeping Beauties and volunteers being so young, and I do think they were being taken advantage of, at least to some extent. I know when I was 16, I would never have been able to really understand the idea of dying to save others, in the real sense; I think it would’ve seemed kind of glamorous, and almost exciting, in that it would let you be a hero and save the world. The idea that Jessie made the decision entirely of her own accord isn’t completely convincing to me.

    • Justice says:

      So I’m a little late to the game thanks to a hectic work week, but better late than never, right?

      What were your general impressions of the book?
      I loved it! I was really struck by Jessie’s voice as our narrator. She really resonated teenage idealism and ambition. I read this on a plane and after I started getting into it, I just couldn’t focus on anything else until it was done.

      Did you think about the title of the book at all? Did it shape your experience and thoughts while reading? How?
      I am probably one of the only “avid readers” I know who rarely focuses on the title before finishing the book. It’s usually something I consider after reading. However, “testament” is a pretty lofty word to throw in a title, so it caught my eye. I was thinking of it more in terms of bearing witness or a covenant.

      The Testament of Jessie Lamb is filled with a number of issues that are particularly resonant with us today. Which concepts and themes did you find yourself returning to throughout the novel’s progression.
      One of my favorite novels of all time is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I thought this book could pair well with that in a literature or Gender Studies course (or sociology, or religion, or any number of subjects!). One thing that struck me was the concept of “freedom from” vs. “freedom to.” For example, women can enjoy freedom from being objects of the male sexual gaze or women can enjoy freedom to be partners in sexual behaviors. In Jessie’s case, I really saw it as freedom from reproductive obligation versus freedom to reproduce. Jessie no longer has a future where she might be at a crossroads between choosing family life or a successful career. At the same time, she could also give her life so that the human race could continue.

      What was your reaction to who was holding Jesse captive? Were you surprised? Did you feel as if her kidnapper’s reaction was justified? How would you have handled the situation?
      Early on, I thought it was her father. But then there was a period when I was thinking that perhaps Jessie’s narration was actually a product of her mind being affected by pregnancy; perhaps her “captivity” was her being monitored while she was succumbing to the symptoms. As a reader, I wasn’t sure if that direction would have been a bold move to psych us out that way or if it would have been an expected twist. I’m very young, and I don’t have kids. I feel like now I can say that I would respect their decisions, but I have no idea how I’ll feel if I have a daughter Jessie’s age. I had no idea what I was doing at sixteen, and I wanted to save the world and be someone’s martyr, too.

  13. pburt says:

    I know I am late to the party but the last two days were fraught with other aspects of life.

    A previous commenter states: “What I noticed was that she was bound and determined to “DO” something. I felt like this was connected in some ways to her adolescent needs, but also part of who she was. And because of this need to act, she was drawn to volunteer. ”

    For me, this was a major theme of the book – how does a young person make a difference, especially in a time when the world is going downhill rapidly. I think it is human nature to want to leave your mark in some way and if their world is in danger, I can see this need escalate. The author did a good job of showing the different ways the various teens went about this. For me, it was the best part of a book I didn’t particularly care for.

    What were your general impressions of the book?

    I didn’t much care for the book. I thought it lacked a certain amount of depth, and tension, and I had issues with the world building as there was very little about the political/governmental. response to this crisis lending a certain haphazard atmosphere to the book.

    Did you think about the title of the book at all? Did it shape your experience and thoughts while reading? How?

    In my greater family religious tradition, it is common to write out your “testimony” and for many of my ancestors, these testimonies feature major incidents in their lives so I took the title in that way and the format helped reinforce that notion for me.

    The Testament of Jessie Lamb is filled with a number of issues that are particularly resonant with us today. Which concepts and themes did you find yourself returning to throughout the novel’s progression.

    I do think the theme of women and their bodies was very resonant with today but I think the author could have gone deeper. There were also touches of the theme of infertility which is also a growing issue for larger numbers of women. I couldn’t help but compare the book to The Handmaiden’s Tale and I wonder if this novel will be able to stand the same test of time as Atwood’s novel.

    What kinds of questions did you have during your reading? Were they answered?

    I figured out it was the father who abducted her fairly early, I couldn’t think of who else it would be which, as someone else said, decreased the tension in the novel.

    Jesse’s father feels as if she has been brainwashed into her position, and there are many ethical decisions concerning the Sleeping Beauties and whether they are being taken advantage of. How did you feel about the lab and the doctors there? Did they taking advantage? Are Jesse and The Sleeping Beauties able to make the decisions they did? Should they be allowed?

    I think the ethical ramifications/questions are what make this a decent book group choice. Given the circumstances, what choice did the world have? Would I make that choice or want my daughter to make that choice? I think that Jessie wanted to “matter”. Her parents seemed to be distant and, at times, uncaring. They were making selfish choices so in a way, their daughter making (in their eyes) a selfish choice makes sense to me. I do think the father was hypocritical.

    Over all, I thought this book could have been so much more. I thought there could have been more dimensionality given to the characters, I thought the world building could have been both broader and deeper. I was not invested in the characters or their choices so at the end I put the book down with an “is that it?” With that said, I do commend the author for not giving us a concrete ending (we don’t know if the pregnancy took) and I do think book groups would enjoy the book because of the discussion that would ensue.