Hi readers! What a week it has been. You’d have to have been living under a media rock to not have heard about the absolutely atrocious police brutality that led to the death of George Floyd in America, and subsequently the Black Lives Matter movement that has gathered global support. It’s been a week of discussion, self reflection, challenging conversations and for the online book community, a global gathering of support for charities, and a celebration of BAME authors and indie bookshops. Personally I’ve been rather quiet on the matter online as I have been talking non stop about it with my friends, loved ones and on my private social media, gathering research, stats and facts and reading as much as possible – to the point of exhaustion.
I am a big believer that changing your habits is what cultivates long lasting change. There’s been a lot of noise, but I don’t necessarily believe that this is a case of who shouts the loudest is making the biggest difference. It’s about what you do offline that really counts. So if you want to show your support, then there’s many different ways and no way is perfect, it is after all a large number of people doing good things imperfectly that makes more difference than a few acting perfectly, and we’re all imperfect humans.
For book lovers, it would be a great idea to look at your bookshelves and check in with yourselves about diversity. Do your shelves reflect it? If not do not judge or berate yourself, just ask yourself why and then do something about it. Personally I’ve always had a really good range of diverse books on my shelf as I find books where I can’t relate to the characters more interesting and I love learning – but there’s always more that I could be doing. So I’ve reached out to two indie book stores and requested some fiction and non fiction that supports authors from cultures and backgrounds that are not my own. One Indie is my only local indie, the other is a BAME owned indie in Birmingham. I could easily have saved a little bit of money and had faster delivery by ordering offline, but the ‘thank you so much for ordering Emma, it really is appreciated’, makes all the difference, because you know that it’s true.
I had always intended to review this book this week, but it seems even more important to do so after the display of intolerance and degrading behaviour we’ve seen happen to people by those in power in the US recently. I asked for this book for my birthday from my partner and was so excited to receive it.
Q, BY CHRISTINA DALCHER
You’ll note firstly that I have entitled this blog post ‘Q/Master Class’ – and that’s because this book goes by the name of ‘Master Class’ in the states with a green cover and as I have many Americans as readers, I want to make clear that we are talking about the same book.
So, that aside, why did I hint so heavily to my other half that this was the book gift I wished to receive? Well firstly – I loved Vox. It has some elements whereby I felt things could have been explored differently, but on the whole, it was and remains one of my favourite dystopian thrillers. This is the second in Christina Dalcher’s novels and I was so excited with anticipation. Dalcher’s books always revolve around political issues lining the underbelly of America, and transforms them into a dystopian world where the worst outcome has been realised. I understand however that with Q, this one is actually based on rather recent history, the American Eugenics Movement.
In this world, perfection is everything.
Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state’s new elite schools. Her daughters are exactly like her: beautiful, ambitious, and perfect. A good thing, since the recent mandate that’s swept the country is all about perfection.
Now everyone must undergo routine tests for their quotient, Q, and any children who don’t measure up are placed into new government schools. Instead, teachers can focus on the gifted.
Elena tells herself it’s not about eugenics, not really, but when one of her daughters scores lower than expected and is taken away, she intentionally fails her own test to go with her.
But what Elena discovers is far more terrifying than she ever imagined…
Having gone through the English education system whereby year group classes are split into ability levels for your subjects, I was keen to see where this one would take us. I recall at school that there was a group called ‘gifted and talented’, where kids that achieved high scores or showed talent where sent on trips away for free that further enhanced their learning. Now don’t get me wrong, I was included in a similar kind of group due to one of my subjects (although I can’t actually remember now what it was), but the majority of pupils within this group were from families that could afford already to send them on trips to enhance their learning (I was not one of those kids). I, although included, always felt it would have been more beneficial to send those struggling with the subject -but with a keen interest in it – to go on these trips as it may have improved their ability in doing so. What’s the point in sending a kid that’s talented in drama because she’s been going to paid drama school all her life away to a show in London for free? Why not send the kids who are enthusiastic but have never seen a show in their life there instead? I never understood it.
In Q, there’s a similar school of thought, although much more extreme. Everyone must undergo tests to measure their Quotient, or ‘Q’, and it’s this number, this measure of intellect and socio-economics, that determines everything in life. Where they work and live, whether they get to skip the line in supermarkets, and for kids which school bus they take, and to which grade of school. For there are 3 schools in this modern day America, the prestigous Silver, Green and finally..Yellow. The elite schools have the best teachers, and the lower you go the less qualified the teacher. The latter is a state sponsored boarding school. The idea? Don’t mix the most intelligent with the least or the poor, they’ll only drag them down. Keep them in their lane. Never enhance the least able.
Therefore, the teachers who teach in the three tier schools are appropriately assigned to each hierarchy of education. Elena Fairchild, our protagonist, is a an Elite school teacher, a mathematician with a doctorate. Her husband Malcolm to whom she has been with since high school, is a government official heavily involved in the ‘Fitter Family Campaign’, the leading figureheads of the Q Mandate. She has two children, 9 year old Freddie, a little girl riddled with anxiety about tests and school, and smart, clever Anne, a few years older who finds school, its tests and the whole idea of Q a breeze. As the book begins, Elena seems to struggle most with the relationship between herself and her husband, and with her husband and Freddie. Malcolm is rather dismissive of his youngest child who is clearly not as bright as his eldest, to whom he devotes much of his attention. One day everything changes when Freddie completely flunks her test and she is to go to a yellow school. This isn’t any old school however – its across the country in Kansas. Due to yearnings and the insistence of her German grandmother that this is a repeat of history, Elena makes the difficult decision to leave her eldest child with her husband, and deliberately drops her own Q and finds a way to be sent to the same school as her daughter. It is there that her eyes become wide open and she is frantically working to publicise exactly what is going on in these schools and to bring down the movement, putting her own life – and health on the line to do so.
The book flips between then and now as we learn how the mandate got to its level of success. Elena is not as innocent as you would perhaps hope, nor does Q testing only begin after a child’s birth. It’s a story with some absolutely appalling elements designed to ensure an intelligent and advanced American society, from aborting babies with low predicted quotient scores to sending perfectly intelligent pupils away to yellow schools for their sexuality or family income levels.
It’s a shocking read with difficult subject matters and a mother racked with guilt. It is scarily plausible story (although to what degree i’m not sure) and harrowing when viewed through a child’s eyes. How unfair that a child with a high intelligence level could be denied a good education because of their parent’s incomes. Whilst that does happen sadly in some parts of the world, the end result in this novel is a complete disregard for human life.
CAN’T PUT IT DOWN RATING: 3/5
Whilst this book had some really shocking dystopian elements, and I was really into it for the first half of the book, I’m afraid that it’s not what I’d call a thriller. Besides the ending, I wasn’t flipping through page my page following Elena and what she would discover. I also felt that many of the characters were white middle class women, so didn’t really explore much of society and what other characters would have to say on the subject or their experiences. Sadly though, I think I have to address a major elephant in the room.
It’s just Vox with a different subject matter. It also strongly reminded me of an episode of Black Mirror. There’s a controversial movement that is silencing a proportion of the nation, an educated wife with a husband involved in the government, I don’t really see the difference between the two main protagonists in Vox and Q nor their children. One child is oppressed and another supports the movement. I basically guessed the ending. I would say therefore that if you haven’t read Vox then you’ll probably LOVE this because it’s new to you, but if you’ve read Vox, whilst the subject matter might resonate with you and you’ll feel anger and despair at certain elements, you will literally mix up the names of the husband and call him Patrick, like I did when writing this review.
I also don’t get why the title has been changed for the US Market? There’s probably a really good reason but I think it’s confusing. I still respect this author’s work but I was looking for something really different and I found I was reading the same story with a different subject matter. I hope that her future work will be written from a different perspective.
Where to Buy:
Book Depository: £9.15
WH Smith: £10.69
WASHED DOWN WITH:
I actually drank this one with a Cafeteria of ground coffee from Aldi whilst sat in my garden. It’s their Alcafe Italian roast blend #4 priced at a very respectable £1.99. It’s a strong roast which I enjoy but I would say it is rather grainy. Probably best filtered further – but for the price, I can’t complain.
So, readers! I’m currently still reading The Choice by Edith Eger which has honestly brought me to tears on a few occasions and I have a stance about not reviewing non-fiction on my blog. I hope to get into a new piece of fiction very soon and will of course share that with you as soon as I have a review ready for you.
For now please follow if you are a WordPress user, subscribe by Email to be notified when I review next if not, and if you have social media you can catch up with me and my reads any time by following me. My Instagram is @papyrusandpeppermint and I really hope to hear from you!