Review: Master Class by Christina Dalcher

Master Class by Christina Dalcher

Published: April 21, 2020 by Berkley

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Every child’s potential is regularly determined by a standardized measurement: their quotient (Q). Score high enough, and attend a top tier school with a golden future. Score too low, and it’s off to a federal boarding school with limited prospects afterwards. The purpose? An improved society where education costs drop, teachers focus on the more promising students, and parents are happy.

Elena Fairchild is a teacher at one of the state’s elite schools. When her nine-year-old daughter bombs a monthly test and her Q score drops to a disastrously low level, she is immediately forced to leave her top school for a federal institution hundreds of miles away. As a teacher, Elena thought she understood the tiered educational system, but as a mother whose child is now gone, Elena’s perspective is changed forever. She just wants her daughter back.

And she will do the unthinkable to make it happen.


I went into this audiobook with only mild expectations. The synopsis caught my attention and sounded like it could be a great dystopian novel. Then I noticed that this was from the same author that wrote Vox, which got very mixed reviews. As many people loved it as hated it. This one just wasn’t that good, but at least it was pretty short at only 8 listening hours.

The book started off well. We were introduced to Elena, who is married to the guy who came up with the Q system. Anne is her oldest daughter and exactly like her father, whom Elena hates. And then Freddy, who has always been an anxious child that struggled to keep up to the high demands of the Q system. Elena tells us how much she hates her husband all the time, it’s the main thing we hear about besides the history of their courtship and marriage.

I soon realized that I was not going to like Elena. She does nothing but complain, about everything. She also does absolutely nothing about anything else. She hates her husband, but doesn’t do anything except complain. She has concerns about the Q system, she complains. People tell her disturbing things about the system, she complains that she doesn’t think it’s that bad. She complains about feeling like a bad mother. She complains about the tests. She complains about someone offering to help her with a heavy bag, because he’s male and while she didn’t want to carry it she doesn’t need his help. But then she also complains when men don’t treat her as a piece of ass either. She actually says that most women want a husband who loves her for more than her body, but she just wants to be wanted for her body. Elena and I did not get along.

I also don’t buy how an educated woman (she has a doctorate degree) wasn’t suspicious of this system that she helped put into place. It never struck her as odd that the Q rating is supposed to be a combination of IQ, test scores, attendance, attitude, participation, etc but you could have a test of your baby’s Q rating before they were born? It never struck her as odd that the company who administers those tests is named Genics (Genix, however it’s spelled)? It didn’t strike her as odd that she kept seeing kids who were highly intelligent all of a sudden drop to the lowest rating and get shipped off to the state schools? It didn’t strike her as odd that her husband wan’t desperate to help their daughter when she failed her test? She must not be very bright, because I knew where these things were going immediately.

None of the characters in this book are nuanced at all. The bad characters do bad things all the time, seemingly just to be evil. They aren’t even doing bad things out of good intentions. Good characters do only good things all the time. That is boring and lazy writing at its best.

This book also didn’t know who it wanted the scapegoat to be. From everything I’ve heard her first book, Vox is a complete demonization of Evangelical Christian men. But at first this seemed to go the opposite way. Once Elena starts questioning the true nature of the Q system (only after it affects her of course) she talks at great length about how this all started with the liberal intellectuals in places like California, New York and Connecticut. Which makes sense when you know the country’s history of eugenics. But then she randomly throws in bits about how men are always favored over the wife in this system, and all of Washington DC has a day off on Sunday for church. So, I have no idea what she was going for.

The ending was completely inexplicable. We’re expected to believe that no one else in government has sussed out the problems with this Q program except the ones who are in on it. It’s entirely a secret operation being borne out by the Department of Education and once the rest of government hears about it they are shocked and appalled! That is just so nonsensical. You are running a eugenics program on America’s youth and sending some of them to labor camps and no one knows about it. No one from the President, the House, Senate, state governments? No one. Sorry, I don’t buy it.

This was a story with so much promise but it was poorly executed and poorly constructed.


One thought on “Review: Master Class by Christina Dalcher

  1. Not an attractive version of a tired trope, from your review. No one ever seems to notice flaws, even if they don’t expect them to affect their own children. Everyone is clueless or cowed.

    Note to authors: kids aren’t that cooperative. They squeeze out, like gelatin, through the spaces. They can’t be supervised ALL the time without a huge expenditure of energy.

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