I absolutely loved Christina Dalcher’s debut novel, VOX, and was thrilled to receive a coveted proof of her second novel, Q.
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…
It started with fear, and it ended with laws.
I love dystopian fiction, and Christina Dalcher does these kinds of nightmarish scenarios brilliantly. In Q, it starts as a way of improving education and reducing overcrowding in schools, ensuring that all children are taught at the appropriate level for their abilities. Segmenting children in this way is not a new idea, but Dalcher takes it to extremes in this novel as children are assigned to a silver, green, or yellow school depending upon their Q – quotient – with regular testing to ensure that standards are maintained. In this way, those children who are perhaps a little slower to learn for whatever reason are no longer subjected to the same pressure as the child prodigies, and the latter group isn’t held back by those who need more attention. It even makes a certain amount of sense when put in those terms, and that’s one of the things that makes this such a fantastic story – it’s worryingly plausible.
We are not all the same.
It’s not just children that that are assigned a Q score and tested regularly – everyone has one, and this determines a great deal, even down to mundane things such as which queue at the supermarket checkout you can use. For children, it determines the school that they attend and who teaches them, with the top tier schools looking for teachers with a PhD in order to qualify. Even unborn children are assigned a Q score, and if you’re not happy with how your child might turn out, well… there are options available to you. Your Q score is based upon various factors – knowledge, but also wealth and family composition as the Fitter Families Campaign dictates that children need two parents – one male, one female – in order to thrive.
I don’t want to say too much about the plot, but, at the beginning of the novel, Elena Fairchild is a teacher at a top tier school, and her daughters both have excellent Q scores. That is until the latest round of testing when her youngest daughter, Freddie, fails to make the grade. Deliberately failing her own test in order to join Freddie, she is forced to remove her rose-tinted glasses and finally begins to understand what the tier system means for those with the lowest scores. It’s brilliantly done, and horrifyingly plausible. Nor is it entirely fictional, as it touches upon ideas of eugenics that were around not that long ago.
Dalcher’s characters are fantastic – as with VOX I found that they evoked a whole range of emotions from sympathy to all-consuming anger (Malcolm). I really liked Elena, who even before she understands exactly what is happening doesn’t seem to entirely believe in the system. There were, however, elements to Elena’s character that made me question my judgement, and I loved that she’s shown with all the shades of grey you can find in a person. Despite this, I thought that her decision to deliberately fail her own test was utterly selfless, particularly as she sacrifices what is an incredibly comfortable position to do so.
I think that anyone who enjoyed VOX will also enjoy Q. There are some similarities in the structure, although I found the plot to be quite different. This is a novel that I read through in no time at all – I found it to be utterly engaging and terrifying for its plausibility. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Q will be published on 30 April by HQ. Many thanks to Katrina Smedley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review Q ahead of publication.