BOOK REVIEW: XX by Angela Chadwick

A phenomenal work of speculative fiction, XX follows the story of Jules and Rosie, one of the first female-only couples to have their own baby without the help of a man.

When a place opens up on a ground-breaking clinical trial to allow two women to have a baby, Jules and Rosie jump at the chance to join, but as the media storm descends the pressure threatens to break them apart.

I loved this book for several reasons; a minority perspective; probing of male/female roles in society; questions on motherhood; portrayal of media and a story that is rooted in reality, despite its speculative setting.  Jules as the narrator is wonderfully flawed, in a way that is incredibly readable and relatable throughout. Her voice stays strong, trying to cope with changes and stresses that could happen to anyone, and I think Angela Chadwick has captured her humanity perfectly. Jules sees her partner through rose-tinted glasses, she is overwhelmed and second guesses herself, she strives to do what is best – these are all attributes everyone can relate to, and it creates an important empathy with the reader. We see, through Jules’ eyes, a toxicity of societal views and values that threaten her and her family in a way that shakes your faith in humanity. Hers is a voice and a story that will make you want to scream at the ignorance of the other characters.

The main theme of the story centres around men and women’s place in society and their roles within it, and it is incredibly provocative and timely. It forces you to question the ‘what if’s’ of your own values, and also shows the circus of the media- obsessed world. In this era of ‘fake news’ and gender roles in constant flux, what would happen if this kind of option were available? What would the media narrative be? Chadwick takes these questions and forms an utterly stimulating plot that doesn’t just feel issue-led. It’s thought-provoking whilst remaining believable and absorbing as a story, and she avoids narrow-mindedness within a first-person narrative with her inclusion of the rhetoric and arguments around the clinical trial. There are several characters with differing opinions who raise issues in their own way, exactly as it would be in real life.

Motherhood is also central to the plot and I really think Chadwick has captured the voice of different mothers and mothers-to-be expertly. Dreams, doubts and troubles invade from all angles and I think it’s a powerful exploration of how parents might actually feel as opposed to how they should feel. There’s an assortment of different family set-ups shown as well which adds even more depth to the dynamics portrayed, and results in a colourful variety of viewpoints scattered through the story. Tying into that theme also is Chadwick’s snippets of the male-gaze and many of the male characters’ defensiveness when they feel threatened. We read disgusting threats to Jules on social media and hear abusive shouts and insults as she goes about her work. They are short but insidious and act as an exposé of hatred within society of something that challenges the ‘norm’. Chadwick’s inclusion of these is incredibly powerful and important, driving home the sometimes poisonous nature of other’s views on personal matters.

I think the plot of his novel is fantastic, with sympathetic characters, thought-provoking issues and ultimately a hopeful outlook for the future. I will be recommending this powerful and timely novel to everyone I know, and I can definitely see many debates around the issues covered arising.

XX is published by Dialogue Books and is available here.

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Angela Chadwick

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Angela Chadwick trained as a journalist and worked as a reporter before becoming a communications manager within higher education. XX is her first novel.
You can follow Angela on Twitter here.

Reviewed by Amber Mears Brown

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