Review: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife

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Review for "The Book of the Unnamed Midwife" by Meg Elison (2016)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book is so full of Win I don’t know where to start. Post-apocalyptic feminist fiction. Sign me up.

This novel takes place in a not-too distant future, with an unnamed female nurse-midwife waking up in a deserted hospital after a plague has ravaged most of the world’s population. The plague takes on the form of a fever, striking everyone but mostly women in childbirth, who give birth to dead babies and in turn die as well. Because of the extreme scarcity of women, the world has become a dangerous place for them. There are no rules or civility, and women in the world after the plague are regularly raped, mutilated, and enslaved by lawless bands of men, traded for goods and services, treated as property. It’s harsh stuff to read, but the Unnamed Midwife avoids this fate by dressing as a man and battling for survival. She helps all of the women she meets by rescuing them from their slavers, offering them birth control, and assisting with births. The story follows her as she journeys from San Francisco to the North and beyond, through hell on earth and finally, to something like hope.

This book takes post-apocalyptic fiction and completely turns it into something that I haven’t seen done before. I usually hate it when these kinds of stories don’t explain things (i.e., the cause of the plague, etc) but here I didn’t mind the not knowing, because it’s the story itself that’s so much more important. The midwife is very open about her own sexuality and although (I think) she identifies as bisexual, her constant changing of gender roles through her practice of dressing as a man turns this notion on its head. Either way, I loved it.

This book is a series, and there is a second book available (“The Book of Etta”) that came out earlier this year. I ran to my library and got it a couple of hours after I finished with this. There is also a third book (“The Book of Flora”) that is set to be published early next year, which I plan to read as well.

Meg Elison is an incredible writer and this is an equally incredible book. Do read this. You won’t regret it!

Review: The Last Girl

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Review for “The Last Girl” by Joe Hart (March 2016)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Didn’t care too much for this. The premise is interesting enough–a virus has led to a dramatic decline in the numbers of female births, reducing them worldwide to zero. The remaining girls are locked away in a facility where they are bred to repopulate the earth. This isn’t a spoiler, because honestly anyone reading this could have come up with the same conclusion within 5 minutes of reading this book. Zzzz.

Zoey, the main character, is a completely unbelievable character. For a person locked in a facility for most of her existence away from normal human contact, she seems to have an excellent knowledge of weapons (okkkkay) and her shooting ability is dead-on. The author explains the progression of the girl-destroying virus through the narratives of several other characters, but you don’t care about these people and honestly about 100 pages could have been cut from this book and it wouldn’t have suffered. The science here is kind of weird too. Isn’t the sex of a baby determined by the father? Hmm…

In addition to that, this entire book is written in a funky kind of present tense that I didn’t like. Example: She reaches out, wishing she could smash the protrusion of the calendar off the wall but knows they’ll just put another one up, and an act like that would earn her time in one of the boxes. I’m all for alternative points of view, but to read an entire book where it’s written like this makes you wonder if she’s in the process of doing something, just thinking about it, or if she even did it at all.

I imagine that plot comparisons to Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and P.D. James’ “Children of Men” are inevitable here, though this book isn’t even in the same league. I am also wondering why the author insists on continuing this book as the first of a trilogy. Then again, I’m not surprised, as it seems to be trendy for all dystopian YA, whether it’s good or not these days to be part of a trilogy (Hunger Games, Divergent, the 5th Wave, etc). Whatever.

[NOTE: This copy was provided to me from the publisher and Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.]