Speculative Fiction: Jessamine Chan and Jo Harkin

Speculative fiction or science fiction… these books could fall under both genres. Scientific advances drive the plots, but these are set in worlds that *almost* feel like contemporary society, and explore the possibilities of taking what we know just a little further… so I decided speculative fiction is the best descriptor for these two new debut novels. They’re both books I found almost impossible to put down.

I found The School for Good Mothers, by Jessamine Chan, to be exceptionally chilling when the story asks us to examine how contemporary American society treats women, especially mothers, and to wonder what would happen if those attitudes became even more extreme. It’s the story of Frida Liu, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, recently divorced and a single mother. Frida is separated from her child by the authorities, goes through months of delayed and cancelled visitation sessions, and is finally sent to The School for Good Mothers for a year. And whatever the mothers do, it’s never good enough. They are to put themselves and their needs last in every interaction. They are monitored constantly, and assigned robot dolls that they must learn to love and nurture in the state-approved way. I don’t understand why every mother in this society isn’t sent to the School for Good Mothers. Scary stuff but a riveting story.

Tell Me an Ending, by Jo Harkin, is reflective, character-driven, and asks us to balance many different perspectives on the issue of memory and trauma.  It takes place in the near future when a memory procedure called a “removal” is a fairly standard practice by a company called Nepenthe. The procedure, called a “wipe” in slang (Nepenthe does not approve of the slang, it is a removal, thank you) has two subsets, the patients who know it’s been done and the patients who have even the memory of the removal taken away. The story is told from I think five points of view, by someone who works there and others who are connected with Nepenthe in ways that aren’t immediately clear. I loved the way the plot lines came together and the various points of view were exceptionally well-handled, I never got mixed up about which character I was following. This seems like it could happen, anytime. I could not stop reading this book. I read it in one weekend.

These are both thought-provoking and fascinating books. Happy Reading!


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