The Book of Joan
The future does not look good.
Author: Lidia Yuknavitch
Genre: science fiction
Reader Appeal: Adults
Let me first start off by saying I’ve never finished a science fiction book. It is not a genre that ever interested me so I have absolutely nothing to compare The Book of Joan to. Now that the confession portion of the review is done we can move on.
The Book of Joan takes place in the future. The earth has been destroyed by war and is almost uninhabitable. The rich live in a space ship but their lives are terrible. Humans have mutated: they have no sexual organs, their skin is translucent, no hair, and when they turn fifty they are killed.
Christine, our first storyteller, is forty-nine and an artist/poet/actor. Stories are branded on bodies, so as Christine begins to tell the story she reads it from her body. The story she tells is about Joan beginning at her childhood until her death. Joan is not dead, though. She is living in the caves on earth. Joan is a warrior and a savior and possibly not a human.
I also have a second confession I’ve never read an eco-feminism book. I had no idea there was such a thing. This will be the only eco-feminism book I will read.
I wanted to enjoy this book. I’d read a little about it and it seemed on the surface to be a futuristic retelling of Joan of Arc. It is not. Not even close. That’s not what bothered me. The earth is uninhabitable but as the story moves on we find a lot of life learning to survive. It seemed far- fetched but hey that’s science fiction and the rules are different. That’s not what bothered me. For a community without sexual organs, the characters are obsessed with sex and reproduction. The sex is bizarre and the desire to reproduce is violent and gross. That is what bothered me. Not just the awfulness of the experimentation scenes but the little fact that you’re killed in a very grand way at fifty.
Our hero Joan seems to be the only character who does not lose her sexuality, but she’s got bigger problems. Both saving and destroying the earth and the people above. Joan does not learn who she fully is until last chapters of the book, I would have liked a more confident, self-aware hero or at least have her begin the learning process earlier. The pace of the book is slow in the beginning and frantic at the end.
I finished the book, my first science fiction book, my first eco-feminism book. I can’t say that it was a terrible book, it will appeal to all sorts of people, just not me. I have friends that I will recommend it to, not because its life changing but because I know they’ll enjoy the plot and all the not so subtle nods to the glories of feminism.
Let's Talk About It
Use these questions to spark discussion among family members who are interested in this book:
• When Joan was a child she began to see that she had a super power, there were consequences when others found out. If you had a super power would you tell? What might some consequences be for your super power?
• Christine’s hero is Joan. Do you have a hero? What if you learned your hero was flawed would that change their status of hero? What makes a person a hero?
• If human being lived on a space ship how would their bodies change? What would it be like to live in a sterile environment?
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