8 CDs. Books on Tape. Aug. 2018. 9:27 hrs. ISBN 9781984843531. $40. digital download. F
Neurolinguist Jean McClellan lives in a near future, or perhaps parallel present-day, America ruled by a right-wing theocracy. For a year, women and girls have been forced to wear electronic devices that monitor their speech, limiting them to 100 spoken words per day and enforcing the rules via electric shock. Those women who still work can only do so in manual labor positions, or—like Jean—abandon their careers to become obedient homemakers. When a crisis grants Jean an emergency dispensation to return to her former research treating aphasia, she seizes the opportunity to push back against the oppressive government but is forced to decide just how far she'll go to risk her family's safety for the greater good. The McClellan family dynamics tug Jean in a variety of directions, bringing immediacy to the stakes; in particular, her relationship with her oldest son and youngest daughter feel vivid and real. The world Dalcher has created is a grim, frightening dystopian America that inevitably calls to mind comparisons to The Handmaid's Tale and 1984 and perhaps to Cory Doctorow's "Little Brother" books, with a government that goes too far trying to recapture an idealized 1950s patriarchal society that never actually existed. Narrator Julia Whelan's reading makes the text immediate and personal, bringing intelligence and desperation to Jean's first-person voice.
VERDICT There are a few holes in the worldbuilding logic—women are also kept off the Internet and prevented from reading and writing, without a lot of explanation why or how, aside from passing mentions of computers and books kept locked away—but the narrative is engaging and exciting enough to make these forgivable, especially in the final quarter or so as things come to a head. ["Dalcher reflects current politics in a clarion call against apathy in a page-turning first novel that is perfect for fans of speculative fiction or women's studies and ripe fodder for book club discussions": LJ 8/18 starred review of the Berkley hc.]
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