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Would I do this? Would you?

The Testament of Jessie LambA strange plague has emerged that strikes pregnant women. By the time it's identified, the virus (MDS, or Maternal Death Syndrome) has already spread around the globe and is latent in everyone on the planet, potentially spelling death to the human race. Triggered upon pregnancy, it causes rapid progressive brain degeneration and is invariably fatal to both mother and child. Research suggests it was genetically engineered deliberately, by combining Creutzfeldt-Jacob Syndrome with a virus, but no one knows why or by whom. A few scientists have come up with a theoretical solution but it's highly controversial and no one knows if it will work. Sixteen-year-old Jessie Lamb's father is involved with the research while Jessie herself struggles to deal with the strange new world she lives in, and to find a way that she can make a difference.

This is a highly unusual take on apocalypse fiction. Jessie's ethical and personal internal struggles, and the way they affect and are affected by her relationships with her friends and parents, are believable and detailed. While it's true that a lot of otherwise important issues -- women's rights, environmentalism, the role of science, etc. -- are glossed over, to me that seems appropriate since Jessie's battle is an internal, purely personal one. The other issues are backdrops for what she's going through; they give texture to but don't define Jessie's choices.

The book doesn't offer easy answers and although in one sense the ending is clear and definite, in another sense it's left very open to interpretation. It left me disturbed and uneasy on several levels which, I suppose, is a mark of its power and thoughtfulness. I recommend it, but with the caveat that it's not by any means an easy or comfortable book. Jessie's choice is one that isn't easily absorbed or comprehended. Is she a heroine or a victim? If anyone else has read it I'd love to hear what you think.



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