“I almost can’t remember how it felt before we all started carrying the Q numbers around with us, like an extra and unnatural print on the tips of our fingers, a badge of honour for some, a mark of shame for others.”
These Q numbers now run lives. It dictates which line you stand in at the grocery store, whether you can have petrol or shop at the hardware store. Those that at one time were the most popular, the cheerleaders and football stars, now amount to nothing more than frustrated folks unable to do what those that they no doubt used to pick on now can. Why, because they do not have the right level of IQ.
The pressure of gaining the highest IQ possible is extreme.
Years ago, your mother would wake you by shouting to you up the stairs to get a move on before you missed the bus, now the smart ones make sure they have set multiple alarms in order to be on time because missing a bus to school is too costly. Imagine that; being late for school could mean you lose valuable IQ points and in a society where this dictates your entire future it is not something that any child wants.
Mixed ability schools are also a thing of the past. Now different coloured school buses arriving to collect their cargo, but not all are welcome. You don’t want to see a yellow bus trundle down the street. Get on that and you may not be seen again for a while. Those living in the right neighbourhoods with intelligent children of course only ever see the green and silver buses where the drivers smile as the children embark.
Then imagine having two children with two drastically different capabilities.
This is exactly Elena Fair’s concern. Her oldest daughter Anne is naturally gifted and easily passes the tests. Frédérica, or Freddie, on the other hand, is completely different. She is a young girl of just nine years old who clearly struggles with the god awful weekly tests that all children are required to take. The problem is if she fails to attend and her score is too low, she will be riding on that hated yellow bus.
“Frédérica Fairchild, nine years old, sweet as sugar, no problems or hang-up aside from the problems and hang-up of any girl her age. She spikes a mean volleyball, gives Malcolm a run for his money at chess, loves everything except Brussels sprouts. But here she is, terrified because it’s testing day.”
The problem is, every time Elena tries to bring the topic of scoring up with her husband Malcolm and the way it makes her feel, she hits a brick wall. You see, unfortunately for Elena her husband is the man who invented the tier system and the Q rankings.
At first, when they were at college together, Elena and Malcolm used a similar sort of scoring system to decide who they wanted to mix with and who, they hoped in later life, would struggle. As you can tell, they were not sporty or popular and it became a way of protecting themselves against the bullies and the popular kids. They saw themselves as superior, as people who were more likely to succeed in the world. At the time they thought it would be a wonderful way for the country to run, but little did they know it would become the thing that would ruin them.
Perhaps if not for Freddie, Elena would not have seen a problem with the way IQ dictated their lives – but even for those that created the system, they are not immune or exempt.
Unfortunately for both Freddie and Elena their worst fears are realised the day the big yellow bus drives down their street and waits outside for Freddie to climb aboard. With no way of controlling the outcome, Elena can only watch as her tearful daughter is whisked away to who-knows-where with the knowledge that it may be some time before she sees her again.
It’s only then that Elena wants to know more.
What is really happening in these bottom tiered schools?
Schools that are so far away parents are unable to visit more than once a month and even if they did want to visit more frequently they are penalised and lose Q points. And for that matter, why are they so far away? Elena has heard it’s because of cost but is that really the case?
Suddenly passionate to find out the truth behind these schools, Elena takes off in search of answers knowing that it will lower not only her Q points but also that of her entire family and in doing so will destroy everything she once held dear.
My Thoughts on Q by Christina Dalcher
Whilst extreme, the theme of segregation in this novel really does highlight that as a society we are still very judgemental of people today. School systems still rely heavily on testing and scores which don’t always play to the strength of the individual and can leave them feeling deflated. We are still far too quick to place success on a number rather than on a person’s individual merits, even though successful people try to highlight that it is not IQ but determination and imagination that leads to triumph.
We wouldn’t have the ability to fly around the world if it wasn’t for the Wright Brothers but they never graduated from high school. Richard Branson dropped out of school at the age of 16 but has succeeded in writing numerous books and has become a household name with the Virgin empire, Milton Hershey dropped out of school but then created a well-known chocolate brand, and Einstein dropped out of school at 15.
This novel does go one step further than simple segregation though; it also explores the concept of breeding for an improved world. This concept was introduced to America back in the 1880s by Sir Francis Galton when he started the American Eugenics Movement which looked at improving biological genes to create a human race known as the ‘well-born’. This led to a mass sterilisation project in the US which continued into the 1970s where more than 60,000 individuals were sterilised either because of a disability or because they were part of a socially disadvantaged group and was also adopted by the Nazis during World War II.
For anyone interested in knowing more about this awful episode in American history Michael D’Antonio wrote The State Boys Rebellion, which conveys the shocking truth about a state-run school in Massachusetts during the 1940s.
Christina Dalcher has written a gripping narrative that explores something most people could never envisage living through and yet for some it has already happened, we are just too naive to realise it. It may be classed as a dystopian thriller but for me, it represents a world that we could easily become because we live in a world hell-bent on creating the ultimate race. As humans, we spend so long striving to be better than everyone else that we fail to see that everyone is successful in their own right.
Q is a novel that has made me personally reflect on the way others are viewed. Even if we don’t like to admit it we live in a world with a class system in place, where some races are seen, by some at least, as more important than others and where some lives seem to matter more than others. You have to challenge why we haven’t moved forward in our judgemental thinking.
If you want a thought-provoking, emotive read, Q by Christina Dalcher, author of VOX, will both shock and terrify you.
Have you read Q by Christina Dalcher or any similar novels that you would like to recommend?
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