Hello humans! It feels like months since I read Vox, a book which publishes in just a few weeks. That’s actually because it has been months! I read this book back at the end of April when I was in Norway which is AAAAGES ago! But publishing dates are publishing dates and so this review (which I wrote shortly after reading it) is coming to you today!
Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.
On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial–this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.
This is just the beginning.
Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.
But this is not the end.
For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.
I feel it’s important to start with the issue/question I always have for books that do anything to do with segregating an entire nation/country/world by gender which is that I have yet to find an example of such a book that addresses people who are transgender or non-binary and how they would fit in to such a society. I understand on one level why authors don’t engage with that discourse, but it always strikes me as concerning to not mention it at all. I had a similar issue with Eve of Man which was a YA title, but there are other examples out there. I had a quick hunt and there are some own voices reviews from people who are transgender on the Goodreads page for The Gender Game and if I find any more between now and pub date I’ll try and link them here.
Recognising that issue, I do think that this is a very interesting concept. The idea that women are only allowed to speak one hundred words a day is certainly a harrowing idea, especially as someone who talks a mile a minute. To have the main character be a scientist puts that even more into perspective. I thought that the way of life this necessitated (a ‘traditional’ (read sexist) housewife role) was best exemplified in the earlier parts of the novel, things felt a little more detached in the latter part which I think possibly meant a loss of perspective? While things were still clearly about all women, they felt very much centred on one or two, which made me a little less invested? It may just have been my perception of things.
One thing I found very impactful was the speed at which these changes had been made. Much like in The Handmaid’s Tale Jean can recall a time before these measures, a time which is recorded in a series of flashbacks. The timescale is even tighter than that of The Handmaid’s Tale with only a matter of years (and not very many). The sense that such extreme measures could come into place at such a pace is saddeningly not implausible. While we don’t get every detail of the political events that lead to the start of this book, there is a clear focus on the issue of being a bystander and the idea that doing so almost makes you an accomplice. In some ways this book could have felt very ‘white feminist’ but the inclusion of these flashbacks and the regret Jean feels made things seem somewhat more intersectional – though more can always be done.
Perhaps the most powerful dynamic in this story was that between Jean and her son. It was fascinating to see how Jean reacted (both initially and later on) to her son being taken in by the extremism and also seeing how her son develops within the story. It was a relationship that tugged at my heartstrings, that could have been a throwaway moment and instead was transformed into something more powerful. Of course, the mother-daughter relationship is of huge significance in a story such as this, but the mother-son also has an unexpected weight to it.
My one other issue with this book is one that I have had with many books similar to this (The Unit springs to mind as a good example) so it is more of a ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ situation than a huge criticism of this book in particular. Why is it that in a dystopian novel (particularly in a dystopian novel marketed towards adults) in some way or another a huge portion of the plot will revolve around sex/an extra-marital affair/ a sudden romance or similar? I don’t always feel as though it serves the plot, and for me it makes me lose perspective, particularly in a story such as this one in which the fate of hundreds of women is at stake. I may be unique in the fact that it bothers me and if you love that plot point then that is wonderful, but in the spirit of honest reviews I thought it must be said.
If you like exploring the terrifying future we may one day be a part of then I would suggest picking up Vox, being aware of where it falls a little short, but still enjoying (or…something less happy) the story with this in mind.
My rating: 3/5 stars
I received a digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What say you? Is there a great dystopian novel that addresses people who are transgender in a positive way (and is ownvoices)? Let me know in the comments below!