#BookReview: Q by Christina Dalcher #QBook #damppebbles

“It begins as a way to make things fairer. An education system that will benefit everyone. It’s all in the name of progress.

This is what Elena Fairchild believes. As a teacher in one of the government’s elite schools for children with high ‘Q’ scores, she witnesses the advantages first-hand.

But when Elena’s own daughter scores lower than expected, she is taken away. Elena follows her to her new home. A government institute.

What she finds there makes Elena question everything. Because this world is about perfection – and that comes at a terrible price.”

Hello and a very warm welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my first review of 2021 with you which is for Q by Christina Dalcher. Q is published by HQ in paperback format today (that’s 7th January 2021). I chose to read and review a free ARC of Q but that has in no way influenced my review.

I have mixed feelings about Q. On the one hand the writing is powerful, the story immersive and the subject matter is highly emotive. On the other, I didn’t like any of the characters apart from one (one character in particular made my blood absolutely boil to the point he nearly sent me into a screaming rage) and despite frequently wanting to return to the book, I found myself needing to take regular breaks to calm my blood pressure and just stop thinking! Q is a devastating story which could, in fact, be all too plausible. I have Vox by the same author on my TBR and I now know that it’s going to break me, but I can’t wait to read it!

A new system has been implemented in the US which grades adults and children according to their intelligence, family standing, their income (or the income of their parents) and their attendance rate, among other things. Students and staff in the ‘new and improved’ school system are subjected to monthly high ranking tests to determine their individual ‘Q Score’.  The ‘Q’ is everything and can make or break a family in many ways. But that’s not something teacher Dr Elena Fairchild needs to worry about. Her husband, Malcolm, is the Deputy Education Secretary and her two daughters – teenage Anne and 9-year-old Freddie – are successful. But Elena has always had concerns over Freddie who is struggling with the pressure and suffers regular panic attacks come test day. Having slightly smudged Freddie’s prenatal Q score, Elena is always watchful over her younger, slightly less able daughter. And then Freddie fails the monthly test and is sent from her ‘green’ tiered middle school to a ‘yellow’ state school – the lowest of the low. Completely cut-off from seeing or speaking to her daughter, Elena does the only thing that makes sense. She fails her own test and gets sent to the same isolated school in Kansas. But what if everything you thought you knew wasn’t actually true? What if you’re now part of an evil, despicable plan to change humanity forever…?

Elena is an interesting character and I wanted to like and sympathise with her situation but there were certain things about her which irritated me no end. For example, despite the dawning realisation of the situation she finds herself in, she appeared to be part of the problem, alongside a teenage Malcolm. The flashbacks to ‘then’ detail a time when Elena and Malcolm were friends at school. Bullied and harassed for being nerds, the last in line for the school canteen, missing out on social events – you know how these things go when you’re a kid. The popular kids versus the not so popular kids. So a colour card system is introduced (oh the power these teenagers have in their school!) which soon puts the popular kids at the back of the queue. I guess I felt Elena only stepped up to the mark when her own family were affected, which I think is what the author was going for. A case of everything is hunky dory providing it doesn’t affect me…. But I also think the author wants you to side with this determined female lead, see the wrong she has done, forgive past decisions and cheer her on as she battles onward. But I just couldn’t. Elena Fairchild was past redemption for me. Nothing she said or did would save her.

In Q I met quite possibly the most frustrating, despicable and controlling character I have ever met in fiction – Elena’s husband, Malcolm Fairchild. He made my blood boil. The way he treated his wife and children, particularly Freddie, made me feel deeply uncomfortable and I hated him with every ounce of my being. I don’t think a book has ever affected me the way Q has. I went from being angry to being frustrated to being sad that the book was over and sobbing quietly to myself. I don’t cry often at the end of books and to be honest, I was surprised I did at Q but I think it really got under my skin.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. I found Q to be a difficult read but I became so emotionally involved with the story and, despite not liking the characters, there was an attachment of some sort there which left me feeling a little bereft once I had finished the last page. The subject matter is highly emotive and the story-telling doesn’t pull any punches which I applaud Dalcher for. I found Q to be a very compelling novel despite wanting to throw it through the window several times because it made me angry (I hope that’s what the author wants her readers to feel!). I would have liked Elena to be a little less agreeable and to have a little more sass. She felt almost ‘sheep-like’ at times and that frustrated me no end. But, that aside, this is a very readable book which will be hard to forget. Recommended.

I chose to read and review a free ARC of Q. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

Q by Christina Dalcher was published in the UK by HQ on 7th January 2021 and is available in hardcover, audio, paperback and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.ukWaterstonesFoylesBook DepositoryGoodreadsBookshop.org |

Christina Dalcher is a linguist, novelist, and flash fiction writer living in the American South. She has over 100 publishing credits in the UK, US, and Australia. Recognitions include first prize in the Bath Flash Fiction Award (February 2019), second prize in the 2016 Bartleby Snopes Dialogue-Only Contest, and nominations for The Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions.

Her flash fiction appears in The Molotov Cocktail Prize Winners’ anthology, Whiskey Paper, Split Lip Magazine, (b)OINK, Five2One Magazine, and several others.

Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents Christina’s novels, including the international best seller VOX.

Christina lives with her husband and the ghosts of several dogs and cats.

To read more about her, or see samples of her work, please visit http://www.christinadalcher.com

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