Originally published: 30 April 2020
Author: Christina Dalcher
Published by: HQ
Reading dates: 18-20 April 2020
“I wonder what we’ll do with the people who aren’t necessary anymore?”
Vox was one of my most anticipated reads of 2018 – I love dystopian fiction, especially the sort that is set in a world very similar to our own, the sort where it could very easily happen.
Q is set in America – no timeline is given but it felt very current or maybe just a little bit in the future. In this version of America, every child has to undergo routine tests for their quotient or Q and any child who doesn’t measure up is sent to the new government schools. The idea being that teachers can focus on the gifted children, without the distractions of children who don’t meet the grade.
Elena Fairchild is a teacher at an elite school. She is married to Malcolm who is high up in the Department of Education and they have two daughters. Anne is beautiful, ambitious, hard working and perfect. She works hard to keep her place in her elite school and looks destined for big things. Freddie is 10 years old and goes to one of the State’s green schools – she has to work harder than Anne to keep up the high scores and suffers from anxiety, especially on the test days which happen every month.
When Freddie doesn’t get the required score one test day, she is sent to one the government schools. These are essentially boarding schools, often many miles away from home. Parents are rarely allowed to visit and there is no way of communicating with your child. Elena is horrified and begs Malcolm to use his influence to stop it happening but he refuses. So Elena finds she has to choose between her daughters. When Elena sits her test (which she has to take in order to continue her elite teaching position) she purposely fails and gets herself sent to the same school where Freddie is, and what she finds there is terrifying.
We also hear how this system came into being. Elena herself was a very bright child – but not popular and often ignored by her peers. When her school brought in a system where the brightest kids get their own line in the cafeteria, we find Elena and her friends gloated at the kids who had to queue in the longer line, enjoying their own superiority. We also hear how it is possible to test foetuses for their likely intelligence and how women choose to abort their babies if they don’t meet the grade (with the blessing of the government.)
When I saw Dalcher had written another novel, I was very excited especially when I read the blurb and was thrilled to get a proof. Q completely lived up to all my expectations – it is the sort of book that you read with your mouth open in horror! It is the sort of plot that I could imagine the current president reading and thinking it was a good idea (please no one show him!)
Elena’s grandmother is German and the links with what is happening in this book and what went on in Nazi Germany are truly chilling. It also touches on a part of American history that I didn’t know about – how eugenics was practiced from the late 19th century until the second world war. Children from poor families, mixed race families and with disabilities were often sent to schools for the feeble minded. Forced sterilisation was common. Reading more around this history is horrifying.
Q was exciting and perfectly executed. I read it very quickly and I think it would make an excellent film. It made me wonder where I would fit in such a system – I think I would probably of been destined for the state school as child! It is the sort of book I won’t stop thinking about for sometime and I hope this sort of thing doesn’t feature in any of our futures!
Thank you so much to Katrina at HQ Stories for gifting me with a proof copy of this. I enjoyed it so much I have just ordered myself the Waterstones special edition!
About the author:
Christina Dalcher earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from Georgetown University. She specializes in the phonetics of sound change in Italian and British dialects and has taught at universities in the United States, England, and the United Arab Emirates.
Her short stories and flash fiction appear in over one hundred journals worldwide. Recognitions include the Bath Flash Award’s Short List; nominations for The Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions; and multiple other awards. She teaches flash fiction as a member of the faculty at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents Dalcher’s novels.
After spending several years abroad, most recently in Sri Lanka, Dalcher and her husband now split their time between the American South and Naples, Italy.