Review: The Testament of Jessie Lamb

Review: The Testament of Jessie LambThe Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
Published by Harper Perennial on May 15, 2012
Genres: Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Source: Library

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.

First Sentence: “The house is very quiet now he’s gone.”

Looking at this pretty, stark cover, with its brags of the Man Booker Prize (even the long list is impressive), I could not help but look forward to reading this. I expected something extraordinary, something literary, something as well-written as Stormdancer. What I got was nothing like that. The Testament of Jesse Lamb has a marvelous concept, but the execution of the novel just left so much to be desired, like knowledge of proper grammar.

Before I get all ranty, which believe me I will, I want to discuss the positive things. As I mentioned, the concept really does hold a lot of appeal to me. In this vision of the future, some terrorist, for reasons unknown, created a virus that affects pregnant women. Every pregnancy equals death. No cure has been devised and humanity has only so long until the youngest remaining women become to old to bear children, assuming a cure ever is created.

Jessie Lamb lives in Britain. When the virus, MDS – Maternal Death Syndrome, hits, she becomes an activist, arguing for children to be given legal independence younger, since obviously adults cannot be counted on to protect their best interests. Basically, YOFI claims that the older generations screwed up the world, so they should really stop pretending to be all wise. Through this group, Jessie searches for meaning in this new world that could end with her generation.

Like Jessie, everyone searches for meaning. Scientists desperately consider cures, ways to develop antidotes or to produce disease-free babies from frozen eggs and sperm. Militant women’s rights groups form to protect women against this new harsher climate, where rapes and abuse have become more common. Homosexuality, too, has become much more common and more accepted, which seems one of the only good things to come of all of this. Some people distract themselves from mankind’s likely end by focusing on fighting for the rights of all of the other animals, pissed off that humanity’s last act will be murdering other creatures in an effort to stay alive ourselves. Of course, the end of the world would not be complete without creepy cults, and those are there too: the Noahs.

Most pertinent to the story, though, are the Sleeping Beauties, the teenage girls that sacrifice their lives to bring a new life into the world. It is, actually, still possible for new babies to be born, though they too have the disease. However, the only way for this to happen is to put the mother into a coma and keep her alive with machines while the virus destroys her brain. After the baby is born, cut from her stomach, she is unplugged. These girls have no chance of surviving; no pregnant women do. Pregnancy has a one hundred percent mortality rate.

All of that is just fantastic. On top of that, the book starts with a bang. Jessie is being held captive for some reason, and is being forced to write out her testament. This technique, while a bit hackneyed, was effective, because I did want to know who had captured her and why he was keeping her in the basement tied up in bicycle chains.

From what I can tell, neither Rogers nor her editor (assuming there was one) have the slightest clue how punctuation works. Throughout the book, it seems as if different punctuation marks were inserted almost at random into sentences. I had so many flashbacks to high school English teachers lecturing the class about how awful comma splices are and how you should never ever use one in a paper or they would automatically deduct ten points. Rogers would have negative points. She uses comma splices like they are about to go out of style; the bad news for her is that they already were out of style, so this is in exceedingly bad taste.

EXAMPLE: “I thought of the drugs trial volunteers, they were nearly all men.”

When connecting two separate but related sentences, one should use a semicolon NOT a comma. FACT. This happens innumerable times. Of course, she balances that out by also sometimes using semicolons incorrectly: “Then we walked back to my house holding hands and not talking, feeling as if we owned the night and everything in it; moon, stars, the dark shapes of trees, the crouching quiet houses.” This proves that she DOES know what semicolons are, but not that she knows how to use them. To be fair, she does very occasionally use them as they are meant to be used. What I find even more frustrating about this is that if she had just accepted she didn’t know how to connect the sentences and had two complete sentences, she would have been just fine.

Another big problem she had grammatically stemmed from her desire, I guess, to make the tone sound like a teenager. A very popular way for writers to do this is sentence fragments. Here’s her punctuation-challenged version: “There was a longish silence then she asked about my parents. Which was a relief; rattling off their sorry story was easy and I hope made me sound more sensible and objective.” Lovely, right? This both misuses a semi-colon and is entirely unnecessary. Tack the ‘which was a relief’ onto the end of the prior sentence with a comma and you have perfectly correct writing. No editor should let this pass. There are way more issues, but I will stop here in the grammatical portion of the review.

Since reading closely made me want to weep or claw my eyes out or go visit my high school English teachers and get them to commiserate with me, I ended up basically skimming most of this book. On the plus side, this did make it go faster, which is good since I was also somewhat bored. The characters just did not interest me that much. I tried to care, but Jessie is a bit distant from other people and I couldn’t support most of her decisions at all.

I did try to care about the romance. The scene where the characters admit their feelings was kind of adorable and then they realize she has built in birth control (all the girls do for obvious reasons), so they might as well have sex now. It’s going great until the hymen-breaking puts a damper on things. They stop momentarily and then this description happens:

“He began to kiss me again. And to move as slowly and gently as a little pink earthworm when you pick it up from the garden in the palm of your hand.”

What the fuck did I just read? No matter how many times I read that, I am never any less grossed out. This is one of the least sexy things that could ever be put in the midst of a sex scene. AND WHY? There’s no reason for this to happen. NONE.

This review has rambled on and on, so I should probably draw to some sort of close. The Man Booker people loved it; I did not. (Or, in her speak: The Man Booker people loved it, I did not.) With such distracting and flagrant errors, I simply cannot countenance giving this book a rating above 2, though the content would be a 2.5 or 3. Do what you will with that information. I’m off to watch Pretty Little Liars and read Blood Red Road to cleanse my soul.

Favorite Quote:  Context: Jessie and her dad play a game in which they plot perfect games. It was probably my favorite thing.

“‘Perfect crime,’ he said softly.
‘Persuade an innocent, idealistic young girl that the future of the human race depends on her sacrificing her own life. She will come into hospital as trustingly as a lamb to the slaughter. She will welcome the implantation of a baby that will kill her. She’ll lie there while her brain is destroyed for nine whole months, and no police will arrest you, no court will judge you, you’ll get away scot free. At the end of nine months she’ll be taken off life support and she’ll be completely dead. And no one will be blamed.'”

21 responses to “Review: The Testament of Jessie Lamb”

  1. Pretty Little Liars does cleanse the soul, doesn’t it? I’m basically in love with Spencer – I have the hugest girl crush on her. And Aria’s clothes. Can I has her closet please?

    About the book: was this traditionally published, or was it indie? I hate finding minor grammatical errors in books published by the big six, but this seems to go above and beyond. Nothing will take me out of a book faster than improper punctuation or using the wrong word. Also: using the wrong tense. UGH.

    • Christina says:

      Spencer is growing on me. I couldn’t stand her through most of the first season, but being with Toby is improving her I think. THEY’RE SO ADORABLE.

      Well, this edition was published by Harper Perennial. It may have started out life as an indie. :/

  2. Renae says:

    This was definitely a really unique book, and as a piece of experimental fiction I liked it. I wasn’t wowed, though.

  3. Maybe the disregard for proper punctuation was a stylistic choice for voice. The idea totally fascinates me too — so I’m off to add this to my wishlist.

    (Though the earthworm in the sex scene freaks me out — ewwww)

    • Christina says:

      Yes, it is ENTIRELY possible that the decision to make the grammar awful could be a stylistic decision, but that really doesn’t make things any better from my point of view. I just get tired of reading terribly written books in first person, like the authors are allowed to get away with more since ‘that’s just how the character thinks/speaks/writes.’ At least, authors shouldn’t do that until they’ve proven their skills.

      Grumpy reader is grumpy.

      SO CREEPY. I was like this is nice OMG WHY THE EFF DID THAT HAPPEN???? EWWWWWWW.

    • Steena says:

      I think the “that’s how the character thinks” justification is a crock. Even if you are writing in first person, no one thinks or speaks with poor grammar; you don’t use punctuation in your head. If an author is arguing that their character would use improper grammar or punctuation the book had better be written as a diary or a series of letters.

      In other news, I hope guy-in-sex scene never learns that she compared his manhood to an earthworm. “Little” and “pink” are not flattering.

    • Christina says:

      The book is written as a testament, so yes. It is physically written down. I do think the writing the way people think thing can be done well, but you have to have a very powerful character driving it.

      Oh man, he would probably never get it up again if he found out.

  4. Ew the earthworm reference, just no.

    K, can I just say that the concept of this book is FREAKING AWESOME. Holy crap, I’ve never heard of it, but I would definitely have picked this one up if I had. And all the grammar stuff, I’m probably guilty of that too… but I’m not an author… I’m a measly little blogger so I feel I can get away with it more easily. LOL sorry that all of that crap ruined the story for you. Fantastic review Christina!

    • Christina says:

      Right? I really, really just don’t get the earthworm thing AT ALL.

      If you’re not bothered by the grammar stuff, you might like this, because, as mentioned, the concept was horrifying and unique. :0

  5. The concept sounds like it could be interesting (in a very disturbing way). The earthworm mention is totally gross.
    I think the unusual punctuation was probably meant to be a stylistic choice… but weird punctuation gives me a headache, so I wouldn’t pick this.

    • Christina says:

      Earthworm! Seriously, no one likes this, so why oh why did it make it into the finished book?

      My question is whether, assuming it is stylistic, if it adds anything to the book for anyone? Is there any reason to do it this way instead of correctly?

  6. Sounds like a combination of both bad grammar and a style you didn’t care for. The book I am reading right now has a lot of comma splices in it, and it’s done as a stylistic choice as well. I do not care for it at all. This author is comma happy. Irritating, really.

    Too bad about this one, because the concept sounds rather good. But I get really irritated when semicolons aren’t used correctly, so I will be passing as well. Great review.

    • Christina says:

      Definitely a style I did not care for. I just do not get the purpose of this style. How does this make things better for any pony? *flails*

      The concept WAS rather good. Made me very frustrated. I want to like this, but I CAN’T.

  7. Sounds like this one is a combination of both bad grammar and a writing style that you didn’t care for. I am dealing with the same in the book I am reading right now. Lots of comma splices done as a stylistic choice. It’s irritating, really, and I don’t care for it at all.

    Too bad, because the premise of this book sounds like something I would want to read. But I can’t handle semicolon misuse. Great review as always.

  8. aLilLacey says:

    A little pink earthworm? Hmm. And hear i was all excited because her last name was Lamb so i totally thought it was a must read for me. Nevermind to that….earthworm..

  9. Ok, the whole pregnancy and dying thing seriously reminds me of one season of LOST. I can’t remember which, but everyone who gets pregnant on the island dies. I can’t stand bad grammar either! I don’t always use correct punctuation when I’m typing something like this, but I know when I’m reading and the editors mess up…it drives me nuts! See…bad punctuation on my part 🙂 Do you think it was supposed to be that way? That’s just weird that no one caught it. Anyway, when I first started reading this review I got all excited because of the plot. Now not so much!

    • Christina says:

      LOST. I spent so many hours watching that show and it WAS NOT WORTH IT. Sigh.

      I suspect maybe it WAS supposed to be like that, but I can’t countenance that either, so, from my pov, it doesn’t matter. Whether intended or no, reading it was painful!

  10. M.A.D. says:

    … bicycle chains, earthworms, omg. Just no. NO. Stop lol.

    On the other hand, my punctuation thoroughly sucks. My brain needs a built in editor. Braaaaiiiiiiiiiiinnzzz (had to).

    Also, while I haven’t watched ANY of the television series (yet), Pretty Little Liars is one of my favorite *bitch* series!! While I’m only on book 5, WHO IS A????? TELL ME… ARGH …. Alison had a twin, I just KNOW IT!! (must get book #6)(the suspense is killing me)

    • Christina says:

      BICYCLE CHAINS? *is creeped out* Yeah, that was all kinds of unfortunate.

      Yeah, the writing wouldn’t necessarily bother everyone, but it made me CRAZY.

      Haha,I had no interest in reading the books, but now I want to because THE SHOW. I don’t believe at all that A could really know all of those things, but I accept it and move on.

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