Book Review: My Real Children, by Jo Walton

Originally published in the May 27, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission. If you don't already receive it, sign up here to receive a bi-weekly dose of readerly goodness in your inbox.

Patricia Cowan is very old, and, according to her medical charts, very confused. As she lies in her nursing home, uncertain of the day or the week or even the year, she recalls distinctly two lives: one in which she married her college boyfriend and had four children, and one in which she never married and raised three children with a woman named Bee instead. She remembers a world torn apart by nuclear warfare, and a world at peace. She remembers a wedding on the moon; she remembers Russia, the U.S. and Europe fighting over proprietary space technology.

My Real Children is an exploration of both of Patricia Cowan's lives, or rather, an exploration of what happens when one life splits in two possible but completely distinct versions. Jo Walton (Among Others) uses the two lives of Patricia Cowan to explore the consequences of decision-making: What would have happened had you chosen another option? Though it can feel heavy-handed at times, Walton's exploration of not only the what-ifs but the what-could-have-beens is brought to life by the multilayered lives of Patricia Cowan, whose experiences as a woman, a mother and a partner are at once incredibly different and yet strikingly similar. Both lives unfold at a rapid pace, but the nuance of the characters, family dynamics and political situations in each keep the two story lines distinct--at least until Patricia's own memories collapse into one, leaving readers and Patricia to ponder the question: What if?


My Real Children | Jo Walton | Tor | May 2014 | Hardcover | 320 pages


  1. Sounds like one of my all-time fave movies...Sliding Doors!

  2. I've never seen it!!

  3. I think I've read everything by Jo Walton since Tooth and Claw. She has such a wonderful range and imagination. Can't wait to read this one!


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