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The Demand for Perfection: A Review of the Dystopian Novel 'Q' by Christina Dalcher

Picture of Q by Christina Dalcher

One of the big reasons people like dystopian fiction is because of its critique on society. And Q by Christina Dalcher is no exception to this. I had the book on my shelf for well over a year but I finally got there. I picked up this dystopian novel in Waterstones because of its similarities to my own dystopian series, The Merit-Hunters Series. They both follow themes of success, productivity and achievement and highlight Western society's need to glorify these things beyond people's worth.

Without further ado, here are my thoughts...

My review of the dystopian novel 'Q' by Christina Dalcher

Q follows the life of teacher, Elena Fairchild and her family. The story is set in a North America where the government has introduced elite schools for children with high 'Q' scores - namely, what we know as an IQ. When her daughter scores lower than Elena or her husband expect, she is taken away to the 'yellow' school. Which is essentially a government institute. This is where the novel can't help but remind readers of Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale but rather than the suppression of women, its the suppression of children who apparently 'don't amount to much.' We see common dystopian tropes such as genetic manipulation, oppression and technological control.

I found Elena's character fascinating; she battles with her innate need to be a mother against her duty to continue to work at her current school and not shake the system. Dalcher's decision to make Elena's husband, Malcolm, a key instigator of the 'Fitter Family Campaign' (which is the government's control over the school system) allows for readers to understand its development, but also to experience Elena's growing hatred for her husband. I do think the novel lacks some pace at the start but that does give us room to breathe and understand the world in which Elena is living.

I can't say that this is one of the best books I've read but its strength is in its lasting impact. In her author's note, Dalcher says this: 'If the references in this novel disturb you, then I have done my job. Because these events are disturbing.'

Which leads me on to the premise behind the novel and the thing that left me thinking about it for days afterwards...

A dystopian critique on parts of American history

Christina Dalcher based this dystopian novel on actual events in America's history - the American eugenics movement. Formed in the nineteenth century and continuing to as late as the 1940s, this movement aimed to remove 'undesirable' genetic traits from the human race through selective breeding. Shivers, right? It gets worse. During the movement, laws meant that people considered to have physical or mental defects or couples of mixed race couldn't marry. For more information, see this article on the movement.

Of course, this level of discrimination and forced control over certain individuals is shocking and shows the very worse of humanity. But to return to my review of the dystopian novel, Q, Dalcher does offer us the hope of the human spirit. That even in the face of such suffering, pain, and downright evil, we can stand up for justice. Additionally, this novel challenged me to assess my own subconscious biases and make sure that I never judge or make anyone feel 'less than' for any reason. Its something we should all seek to do every day.

So, to conclude this review of Q by Christina Dalcher, this is not a dystopian novel for teenagers but very much for adults. It's a harrowing but essential story to challenge how much we all demand perfection from each other.

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