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.
“Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.” That, right there, is why I requested this book. Honestly, it’s a terrifying prospect, and one that feels plausible in the current climate where before I would have written it off as about as likely as The Hunger Games – which also don’t feel as unrealistic anymore, either. Perhaps I’m being alarmist, or exaggerating the possible threat. At times I want to think that, but I see how easily some people have destroyed the basic human rights of others, seemingly overnight.
Vox is a terrifyingly plausible dystopia, and yet, a little unrealistic. I went into with few pre-conceived notions or expectations beyond the basic of wanting to see how on earth they could have forced women in the United States to speak less than 100 words per day. How could they do this in a place where women outnumber men 161 million to 156.1 million? And it’s explained. Kind of. Not enough to make this a 5-star read, but enough to make me think that the author vaguely thought about it. The logic that allowed this to happen in our near future is that the Bible Belt of the south expanded, becoming a corset. The only places that resisted the change were the liberal-heavy centers of D.C., the Pacific Northwest, California, and a couple of others. The problem I see with this chain of events is the power and populations that are in those liberal areas of the country and the level of resistance I’m seeing in them currently; however the scary reality is that when you pare it down, the center states could effect change on a nationwide level.
My issue is that I still am a little bit in denial of this ever being able to happen, and the author didn’t convince me that it could. Once I set that aside though, I did speed through this story. It’s a quick read that takes place in an extremely truncated timeline. The word-limit was only implemented about a year ago. So women like Jean are still getting used to it, we haven’t really begun to see the long-term effects on children, especially young girls. Because I couldn’t see how this had happened, it made swallowing the fact that women didn’t have the right to choose, gay relationships were effectively banned, birth-control was non-existent…Many of women’s worst fears. But I had a hard time understanding how we’d really gotten to this point.
Though I do give the author full points for including a lot of thought into the diversity and the differences in rights presented therein. I appreciated that Jean recognized she lived in a safe bubble, in part because she was a white woman, and she was quickly getting her bubble burst. But she still wasn’t nearly as affected as others who had no safe-bubble in the first place, and how she came to recognize that.
Jean is an interesting narrator. She’s a neuro-linguistic scientist, studying how to enable repair of the speech centers of the brain after traumatic injury. Because of the word limit for women, we spend a good deal of time in Jean’s head. A place where she not only informs the reader of what is happening, but what she sometimes believes, or wishes, is happening. It’s a variant of an unreliable narrator, except where you’re never quite sure what the truth is, Jean herself tells you very soon after the imagined scenario. I quite liked that about her. Because I often think in the same way, of possibilities, best- and worst-case scenarios. She’s also a mother, of three boys and one little girl.
She’s far from perfect. I actually loved that, though I can understand that some may not. She doesn’t make excuses for herself, and you’re presented with a unvarnished truth of her. I appreciated that she acknowledges that part of the reason this happened is because she didn’t get active when things were less dire, she didn’t even vote. And she is experiencing the consequences of those lack of actions on her, and thousands of others’, parts.
There were lots of things that made me uncomfortable in this book, and they were meant to. Women unable to say ‘no’ to their husbands because they’d reached their word limit. Yes, she could have made him know in another way, but she didn’t feel like it was worth doing – so they had sex, not because she wanted to, but because he did. Girl children unable to cry out and scream or vent when they’re terrified or being harmed. Women left with no choices.
The other thing that I really loved here is that it seems the author has either some good authority on the medical and sociological impacts of this kind of change, or has done a hell of a lot of research. I spent a good amount of time thinking about the implications of such a change in our society. What would it do to young children to be raised by women who couldn’t speak? How would it affect their brain development? Their social interactions? The truth is that it would affect them greatly. And while the government (or villains) in this story didn’t think of that, the author did and it’s considered and used in the story. I appreciated that. I appreciated the level of thought that went into the ‘what if’ questions. I think some readers may find it too heavy-handed with the medical and research related jargon, but I can’t say it is. There’s just enough there to make it feel real without me getting bogged down – and that’s what I want from my books. Ah, and I just looked and Christina Dalcher earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics. Now I know why it all feels so real. I’m a huge fan of that part of it.
What felt a little less likely was how there were so many characters that showed themselves to be allies at just the perfect moment. I’m not entirely sure if it’s because of that or not, but I never felt the urgency in any of the characters. They continued on their paths, without really letting us in on the plans for reshaping the country. It made me feel like an outsider, despite being deeply entrenched in Jean’s head. Because of that I felt less anxiety or tension due to the climax of the story. The ending ties up a little too neatly. Jean has many revelations about herself throughout the story, but I’m left feeling a little unsure if she’s actually changed because of her experiences. Or just escaped. I can’t say I blame her if she has simply escaped, but it felt a little too ambiguous for me.
Vox ended up being an quick, provocative read that made me think more than once. The only thing that could have made this better for me is more of how they got to that point, and more drama/suspense/action with the resolution.