Orphan Black meets Margaret Atwood in this twisty supernatural thriller about female power and the bonds of sisterhood
Josephine Morrow is Girl One, the first of nine “Miracle Babies” conceived without male DNA, raised on an experimental commune known as the Homestead. When a suspicious fire destroys the commune and claims the lives of two of the Homesteaders, the remaining Girls and their Mothers scatter across the United States and lose touch.
Years later, Margaret Morrow goes missing, and Josie sets off on a desperate road trip, tracking down her estranged sisters who seem to hold the keys to her mother’s disappearance. Tracing the clues Margaret left behind, Josie joins forces with the other Girls, facing down those who seek to eradicate their very existence while uncovering secrets about their origins and unlocking devastating abilities they never knew they had.
(From the publisher’s description)
Girl One was one of my most anticipated reads for the first half of the year and I’m sure it wil remain in the top five most memorable ones. Any good science fiction novel has to be a blend of several elements: an interesting scientific concept, a ‘what if…?’ which is plausible and fascinating to discuss, an interesting plot or unusual characters, and a strong message. Girl One has all three of them and definitely deserves your attention.
This is a story of a young woman, Josephine Morrow, looking for her estranged mother Margaret, who disappeared (was kidnapped?) from their home under suspicious circumstances. The search turns into a journey of self-discovery that breaks and re-makes every idea Josie had of her past and present. Josie is number One of the nine babies, miraculously conceived by parthenogenesis (self-conception, ‘virgin birth’) in the Homestead, a commune of like-minded, progressively thinking women and a scientist who helped the project to take off. The commune was destroyed by a ravaging fire, in which two people died- Fiona, the youngest of the nine girls and Dr Bellanger himself. The remaining mothers and their daughters conceived without male DNA scattered all across the country and went on with their lives. Josie finds her mother’s enigmatic notes, hidden in what remains after a similar fire consumed their ordinary flat, and sets outs to find the rest of the girls.
This is a well-written thriller with a tight plot and multiple twists and turns as there are a lot of things Josie has to discover about her past, the Homestead Project, and the only family she has ever had. Since there were 9 original girls, it does take some time , and some characters contribute less than the others to the development of the story. Then again, there are also some sinister, horror-like scenes that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The writing is really vivid and you can easily see the book turned into a TV show in future.
Josie is a very likeable character. She is strong, she is caring, she is flawed, and this is what makes her so interesting. She discovers and re-discovers the strength and selflessness of her mother-daughter bond and a powerful connection to her ‘sisters’. She grows during this trip, takes responsibility for her own actions and her road companions and works through some complex feelings. The events are told from her point of view and I wonder what kind of effect having multiple POVs would have had on the book.
The thriller side of the book is quite strong, but this gripping journey also comes with thought-provoking social messages- the way the girls come into their own powers, test and learn their ethical boundaries is a perfect metaphor for the relationship our society has with its scientific discoveries and technological progress. There is also something else – we are all different, but there is no need to be afraid of our diversity. We can be free and independent, and enhance each other.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) for the review copy provided in exchange for an honest opinion.
Sara Flannery Murphy is the author of the novel The Possessions and Girl One. She grew up in Arkansas, studied library science in British Columbia, and received her MFA in creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis. She lives in Utah with her husband and their two sons.