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My Real Children

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  6,034 ratings  ·  1,194 reviews
It's 2015, and Patricia Cowan is very old. "Confused today," read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. She forgets things she should know—what year it is, major events in the lives of her children. But she remembers things that don’t seem possible. She remembers marrying Mark and having four children. And she remembers not marrying Mark and raising three children with ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published May 20th 2014 by Tor Books
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Average rating 3.80  · 
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 ·  6,034 ratings  ·  1,194 reviews

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Nov 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014-reads
It all comes down to a choice.

Sixty years ago Patricia Cowan received an angry ultimatum that pushed her onto the crossroads of life. 'Now or never!' the angry voice demanded.

“Oh Mark,” she said. “If it’s to be now or never then—"

And without much hesitation, Patricia chose "now".
Or maybe, without much hesitation, she firmly chose "never".

And each of these choices sent her life spiraling down a completely different path, these path diverging so steeply. A life of love and a life or loneliness, a
John Mauro
Dec 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
"My Real Children" is a unique and thought-provoking book that has stuck with me for years.

The book opens with an elderly Patricia Cowan confused about her life. She has memory problems and seems to recall two different versions of her life, with two different families and two different sets of children. Who are her real children?

We flash back to her childhood before World War II and the events leading up to a marriage proposal from Mark, who demands a "now or never" response.

The story then bi
May 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I think I'm going to allow myself a completely biased review. I'm going to be utterly, shamelessly gonzo.

Just a warning, though: This is mostly a character study. Only the end proffers up a choice.

The rest of the time, we're given to enjoy two characters who are the same woman, Pat and Tricia, who both live in completely different realities and who make very different choices, but she they later begin to bleed together into one consciousness, but only later in life.

Sound like it's up your alley?
Giving up after 70 pages, which is about 20%.


I have GR friends whose tastes often overlap with mine who have enjoyed this. (I’m not blaming them; merely puzzled.)

I like the premise. When Patricia decides whether to accept a marriage proposal, her life bifurcates into two versions: one where she accepts, and one where she doesn't. The two women/versions, Trisha and Pat, live very different lives, in rather different worlds (I gather that JFK is assassinated in one but not the other), t
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Jo Walton’s books always seem to come out around 3.5 stars for me: I like them, but not as much as I want to. I keep coming back because she is a good writer, and because, unlike most fantasy authors, she has a talent for telling a story in one book without padding, and for telling a unique story every time. That holds true here, though again my response was lukewarm.

Patricia Cowan is a very old woman with dementia, but her symptoms go beyond the expected: she remembers two distinct lives, two d
B Schrodinger
May 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Jo Walton sure knows how to pull on my heart strings. Among Others charmed me and spoke to me on so many levels, even though I did not grow up a girl in Wales in the 1970's and 80's. Jo's new novel has the same feel as her previous, but tells a different story.

This is the story of Patricia, born in the 1930's and who grew up during World War II. Patricia falls in love with an intelligent young man who attends her university and they become engaged. But when her fiance phones to say that his fut
Dec 25, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: rtc
*insert YOU CAN'T MARRY A MAN YOU JUST MET in the Elsa voice*

Review to come...
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Oct 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014

Jo Walton has won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards a couple of years ago, for her novel Among Others, a curious genre novel where the fantasy and science-fiction elements of the story were kept to minimum. The appeal was more in the character study and in the ways literature can influence and enrich a life. I will not be surprised if this new book from the author repeats the performance, and makes a good showing at the award ceremonies. The science-fiction elements are once again kept to a mi
May 03, 2016 rated it liked it
This book started off so well and held so much promise in the first chapter. How could one person be able to remember living two totally different lives? What could have caused this to happen? Were both lives real or was one of them imagined? Are there in fact parallel worlds? It could have been a really good book if the author had offered a satisfactory answer to these questions. Sadly she chickened out at the end and left the reader hanging. Apart from that the concept was good and the two par ...more
So, first off: I am completely, utterly biased. Jo sent me a copy to review, I had my own pre-ordered copy several days before the book released, I love her work in general, and she's been great to me. This doesn't speak to me in the same way Among Others did, but all the same, it's wonderful. I love the way the two timelines are handled, and I love the way that last chapter brings things back into alignment. I love that I was thinking all along that I wasn't sure about the narration, and yet so ...more
Wanda Pedersen
I have waffled back and forth between giving this book 4 or 5 stars—so let’s call it 4.5 stars. It really spoke to me—I loved the way Walton was so honest about the details of women’s lives and how true, at least to my life, it rang. What a great use of alternate history and different time lines! I have often speculated on how different life would be if different choices had been made through the course of my life. Thankfully, I’m pretty happy with how this particular time line has ended up for ...more
Aug 03, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: science-fiction
Supposedly science fiction (as indicated by the UFO sticker on the spine of my library book), this never lived up to its first chapter. It could have been so great! Alas. Tonally, it felt less like Life After Life (which was great) and Never Let Me Go (which handled subtle sci fi in a deliciously creepy manner) and more like the preachy, morally heavyhanded Christian novels I read in my adolescence. Additionally, the whole thing read like the world's longest Christmas letter, or as another revie ...more
Feb 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi, mainstream
I absolutely love Jo Walton’s Among Others, a wonderful, heartwarming novel, with the added bonus of being a love letter of sorts for the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I would have read many more of Ms. Walton’s books if not for the synopses of them which do not seem so appealing to me. Still, I thought it was about time I read something else by her having declared to be a fan after reading just one book. My Real Children is one of her highly-rated novels and the synopsis seemed interesting.

As it turne
Kara Babcock

I’ve previously read two of Jo Walton’s books. The first, Among Others , was a Hugo-nominated, Nebula-winning novel that I enjoyed but didn’t love. The second, Tooth and Claw , was a more straightforward story which was basically “what if Regency England was intelligent dragons” and, as such, was a delightfully clever romp of a book. My Real Children is a slow burn of simmering something else and it blew my mind backwards and
Megan Baxter
Dec 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I find it very strange that I've now read four Jo Walton books, and the one that won a Hugo is my least favourite of the four. It's not that it's bad, but it really wasn't a book that I loved. In contrast, the other three books are ones that practically have me picking my jaw up off the floor with how good they are. Tooth and Claw convinced me that I did want to read about Victorian dragons, Farthing made me shudder with the potential reality of the vision of a fascist Britain (I don't even know ...more
Jill Heather
Apr 12, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book was easily a four star review. Until the last chapter, which was beyond trite. I'm not sure what the opposite of stick the landing is, but that's what the ending did.

Patricia lives two lives: a happy one in a horrible world that is like ours if everything had been a little worse and an unhappy one in a wonderful world that is like ours if everything had been a little better. But both her lives end in dementia -- very well written -- and she is not entirely sure which one is real, only
May 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Absolutely gorgeous, crushing, and poignant portrayal of lives as they transpire. Wonderfully realized moments of life's happinesses and injustices, interlaid together in an unpredictable way to make you look twice.

Got me captivated, and fall in love with Walton's authentic, compassionate voice. Beautiful.

There were reading updates.
Amal El-Mohtar
May 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Reviewing this one for NPR. Very beautifully done but left me so sad.

Review is here: http://www.npr.org/2014/05/21/3121907...
3.5 stars

If you’re expecting more of a sci-fi feel with this book because it’s written by a Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author, then you’ll be disappointed.

In fact, this novel should probably not be classified as science fiction at all. I might have enjoyed it more if I’d known it was actually more like contemporary women’s fiction with a touch of fantasy.

Patricia Cowen is in a nursing home suffering from dementia. She can distinctly remember living two different lives at the same time, with t
Aug 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Let's start with the publisher's press release for My Real Children; "perfect for fans of Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife and Ursula K Le Guin ...". So really, that should rule me out. I haven't read Life After Life, I hated The Time Traveller's Wife and I've never heard of Ursula K Le Guin. The press release goes on to say ... " writes science fiction and fantasy novels ....". Well, that's me out again. When anyone asks me what I like to read, I a ...more
Ah, time-travel and the multiverse! What would our lives be like if we hadn't made that one pivotal decision (repeat ad nauseam)? It seems like there have been several books about this in the last year, with Life After Life getting the most hype. Since Jo Walton writes such clever science fiction/fantasy novels, I thought this might be great - but unfortunately, it ends up being far more mundane than interesting. The writing bumps it up to three stars, but other than that, it's very skippable.

Jamie Collins
Enjoyed this - it reminded me of Kate Atkinson’s novel Life After Life, although the scope is smaller.

It begins with Patricia Cowen as an elderly, confused woman in a nursing home who has memories of living two very different lives. Her timeline split when she made the critical decision to marry - or not marry - her college boyfriend. One choice led to a life of misery and repression; the other led to a life of love and adventure.

For a while I was irritated by the stark contrast between her two
First Second Books
Patricia remembers living two lives – with two different sets of children, two different ways that the world could have gone. And it doesn’t just seem to be because she’s old and living in an assisted living facility – on different days, she gets visits from children who don’t exist on the other days.

Both of her lives went very differently, but Patricia is a wonderful character in both of them – and a fascinating (and different in both iterations) window into ways that the last century could hav
Jan 21, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library, canada
The premise is interesting, but the execution does not do it justice.

There is a good and promising moment early on, but once we have Pat and Bee and Michael in one place, it starts getting downhill; the book fails to deliver, plot- and style-wise. On the plus side, I appreciated the portrayal of dementia and how the protagonist coped with it.
Emily M
Dec 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: canadian
3.5 stars

This is the second Jo Walton book I’ve read and enjoyed, with many (though not all) of the same strengths and weaknesses as the first (Among Others).

Walton is an unabashed genre writer of science fiction/fantasy and (apparently) women’s fiction, and I’ve also read some of her essays on craft, which are thoughtful and interesting. I enjoyed her description of literary fiction as a necklace with a big statement pendant at the end, while sci-fi requires a more symmetrical structure with a
May 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Jo Walton writes like a dream. Literally. When I read her books, I slip away into another reality and accept whatever strange thing that transpires as a matter of course. Walton usually doesn't build her books to a crescendo, but noodles around putting her earnest characters through whatever what-if framework she has imagined, revealing their day to day lives as she explores her themes.

In this book, the main character Pat or Trish (depending) finds that as she looks back at her past, she can re
May 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. I loved almost everything about this book. The deft imagining of two parallel timelines of the twentieth century, both different from our own, the vivid depictions of every character in both timelines, the ways in which Pat/Trish is different and the same. I basically read the whole book cover to cover yesterday. I had other things to do, but I couldn't put it down. I read the last several chapters with tears pouring down my face. I think it would have been a five s ...more
Carly Thompson
Jul 14, 2014 rated it did not like it
Quick read in the alternate history read that is light on the alternate history angle. Walton plays with the alternate history genre but offering not just one but two alternate histories both versions of the same woman's life.

Patricia Cowan is suffering from dementia in 2015. In her nursing home, she has memories of herself in two different past lives. Her early childhood and adulthood are the same, but a fateful decision in 1949 of whether to marry her boyfriend or not leads her down two diver
Nov 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing

The election happened. I could not read fiction. I had a review deadline for The Terranauts and was almost through reading that so I got professional (more than I can say for some politicians I will not name) and finished it. I had the next book on my reading plan for the week sitting there but I just couldn't start it.

One of the little known blessings of e-readers is that I have almost a library of unread books there that I forget I own. Like a recovering invalid, I flipped through all those t
"Trish’s world was so much better than Pat’s. Trish’s world was peaceful. Eastern and Western Europe had open frontiers. There had been no nuclear bombs dropped after Hiroshima, no clusters of thyroid cancer. There had been very little terrorism. The world had become quietly socialist, quietly less racist, less homophobic. In Pat’s world it had all gone the other way."

These are the worlds in which Patricia Anne Cowan is still living. At one moment in her life she made one choice - out of two
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Science Fiction &...: My Real Children by Jo Walton (November 2020) 8 12 Nov 22, 2020 05:04PM  
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Jo Walton writes science fiction and fantasy novels and reads a lot and eats great food. It worries her slightly that this is so exactly what she always wanted to do when she grew up. She comes from Wales, but lives in Montreal.

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“She felt her strong young body that she had never appreciated when she had it, constantly worrying that she didn't meet standards of beauty and not understanding how standards of health were so much more important.” 3 likes
“She wasn't famous then," Pat said. "Nobody is. You never know until too late. They're just people like everyone else. Anyone you know might become famous. Or not. You don't know which ones will make a difference or if any of them will. You might become famous yourself. You might change the world.” 1 likes
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