Review | The Change, by Kirsten Miller

TheChangeCoverThe Change is a fun, fast-paced, feminist revenge fantasy starring a trio of powerful middle-aged women. The three protagonists all came into their powers after menopause, and in a market filled with feminist fiction often starring younger women, how absolutely incredible is it to add this title to that list?!

The three protagonists are a delightful trifecta of women who’d kept quiet and ‘good’ for far too long. Nessa, a widow and former nurse, heard her first spirit when she was twelve; now that her daughters are away at college and menopause has begun, she begins to hear the voices again. Jo, a former high-powered executive with a playwright husband who supports her career, has opened up a women’s only gym called Furious Fitness, for women who want to burn off their rage through exercise. Her hot flashes turn out to be fuel for super strength, channelled through her hands. And Harriet, a former advertising director, lets her inner wild woman out when her husband leaves her for a younger woman; her neat suburban home becomes overgrown with plants, and women in the neighbourhood soon know to go to her for help with all sorts of situations.

Nessa, with her gentle nature and her subplot romance with a police detective, is the one I related to and enjoyed reading about the most. But Harriet’s experiences in advertising, where her most useful skill was getting her great ideas through by making her less talented but more powerful male colleagues think they’d come up with the ideas themselves, hit hard. One of my favourite scenes is when a former colleague begs her to lift the curse she’d put that prevented him from coming up with great ideas, and she tells him, truthfully, that there’s no curse; the great ideas were never his in the first place. He doesn’t believe her, and in the midst of the more supernatural plot points, that moment feels incredibly realistic.

Nessa, Harriet, and Jo team up when they discover the dead body of a teenage girl on a beach, and the ghosts of two other teenage girls by the water, and realize there’s a serial killer on the loose who preys on young girls. The killer’s identity is revealed fairly early on, and he is brought to justice long before the book is over, which then opens up the floor to the more important questions Miller and her characters want us to contemplate: who else is complicit in crimes such as these, and how are systems and structures set up to support these crimes going on unchecked for so long?

As a rage-fuelled revenge fantasy, The Change is both deeply satisfying and deliberately discomfiting. There were moments when I found myself thinking that Harriet, the enforcer of the trio, had gone a tad too far, that there are surely gentler ways to get her point across. And when Nessa is confronted with a choice between her police detective boyfriend’s offer of support within legal forms of justice, and Jo and Harriet’s invitation to explore quicker, more effective, yet more violent means to justice, I found myself wanting her to choose her boyfriend — not because I cared so much about the law, but because the boyfriend’s appeal to pacifism appealed to me.

The Change prompts me to reflect on my response — as women, we’re so conditioned to be gentle and soft, yet when so many young women are treated so brutally, killed, and discarded like garbage, where do we draw the line and declare that enough is enough? More importantly, how loud and forcefully are we willing to make that declaration? For Nessa, Jo, and Harriet, they’ve reached their tipping point, and taken a big, confident stride right over that line. And their story invites other women to do the same.

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Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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