Reader, I hated it.
I had decided not to review this one since I have almost nothing good to say, but changed my mind this week. I slogged through every word of this monster, and I want credit, dangit.
I just reviewed three books in a row that I really liked, so this had to happen. Can’t let you all get too comfortable. Luckily, I haven’t seen any blogging friends raving about this one, so I might get away with this without sending any relationships up in flames. Fingers crossed.
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.Publisher synopsis via Goodreads
On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed to speak 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 get why this kind of thing gets hyped. I get why a publisher would think this is the perfect book for this moment. Riding the coattails of the Handmaid’s Tale Hulu adaption, a book like Vox is easily marketed to anti-Trump white ladies that think reading a book like this is an ~act of resistance.~ But just like Grace and Fury in the YA world taught us the same year, just because a book’s synopsis checks all the feminist boxes doesn’t mean it has anything interesting to say.
And boy, oh boy, does this book have nothing interesting to say.
When I initially added this on Goodreads, I gave it two stars. I was trying to account for the fact that I’m not a huge fan of this genre to begin with. After reflecting, though, I had to drop it down to one. It’s not the genre. It’s the book. I’m not a big fan of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, off of which Vox is shamelessly trying to profit, but I can recognize the ways it is well-written and had valuable things to say. That’s not the case here.
Like all books of its kind, Vox has a central thesis. It’s referenced very clearly in the synopsis:
The book’s central argument is that yes, yes it can. It can happen in America, and to this ordinary, stand-in-for-the-reader middle-class straight white woman. The evidence the book gives in support? Here’s it happening.
Think about that for a minute. The book is saying, oh, you think this couldn’t happen? Well here’s a fictional story of it HAPPENING. Boom. Don’t you feel dumb now?
I thought I was going to get some interesting dystopian world-building. I thought I was going to see some real grappling with how this 100 world limit would change society in deeper ways. I thought I was going to get something, anything new.
Instead, I got bland, melodramatic oppression porn.
When I rate books, just hating a book or thinking it’s poorly written (as I did Grace and Fury) puts a book at two stars. To take away that last star, I have to hate a book and think it’s poorly written and think it’s harmful or has a message that is bad for the world. I have to badly want other people not to read it. That’s the case with Vox.
I firmly believe that oppression porn is bad for the brain.
There’s so much value in reading stories about marginalized people struggling with oppression–how it affects people, how they do or do not overcome it, how it happens in the first place. So much value! And there are many, many marginalized communities with stories of oppression to tell–real and fictional.
Read Malala. Read Trevor Noah. Read Tara Westover. Read Samira Ahmed and Angie Thomas and Adam Silvera. Read literally anyone writing memoir, nonfiction, or novels about actual injustice. Find better people than me to give you recommendations.
But please, don’t read yet another fantasy of white American woman receiving a taste of that oppresion. It just reinforces, in the brains of people like me, that the only way we can care about unjustice is to see it applied to us. If you want to put in the mental energy of reading something harrowing and dark and deadening, spend that time well.
I know all that makes it sound like I’m just objecting to the idea of the book, but believe me, I read it. I picked it up because I throught it would be good. Because there is a way to do this kind of story well, but that requires… I don’t know… strong characterization. Detailed worldbuilding. A compelling plot. Quality prose. An explanation for the entire premise beyond uh… because Christianity. Lots of things that this book doesn’t have.
So disappointing. One star.