Book Review,  Fiction

Ian McEwan: The Children Act | A Review

My Rating:

Title: The Children Act

Author: Ian McEwan

Genre: Fiction / Legal, Political, Religious

Publisher: Vintage

Release Date: 1 September, 2014

Format: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook, Kindle

Pages: 224 (first edition)

Source: Goodreads – The Children Act

Description: “The Children Act” by Ian McEwan delves into the professional and personal struggles of Fiona Maye, a High Court judge in London who presides over family court cases, particularly those involving the welfare of children. Fiona faces a challenging decision when she encounters a case concerning a 17-year-old boy, Adam, who refuses a life-saving blood transfusion due to his religious beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness. As Fiona navigates the complexities of the legal system and grapples with her own personal issues, including a strained marriage, she finds herself deeply affected by Adam’s case and must make a decision that will have profound consequences. The novel explores themes of ethics, morality, religion, and the intricacies of human relationships, offering a thought-provoking examination of the intersection between law and personal conscience.

Ian McEwan: The Children Act (released in 2014) is the first fiction book I’ve actually read in a long time. Some people might say, why read fiction? What’s the point? It’s actually been proven that reading fiction teaches us to understand people on a deeper level. It helps us to increase our emotional awareness and how we connect with the people around us. Also, fiction is fun, and reading is good for the soul.

Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan is an English novelist born in 1948. He has written at least 14 books, including Atonement, Saturday, and Amsterdam. He received seven awards from 1998 to 2011, including a Booker Prize, and has been nominated for many more.

If I’m candid, The Children Act is the first novel I’ve read by Ian McEwan, but I’ve also heard great things about Atonement (according to my other half), so that’s next on the list. That’s if I can prize myself away from a non-fiction book for five minutes.

The Story

The leading character in this novel is Fiona Maye, a high court judge specialising in family law. The title of the book is a homage to the ‘The Children Act 1989‘ a UK act of parliament.

In a complex case, Fiona has a difficult decision to make concerning a young boy of faith, who is refusing a blood transfusion. Without the life-saving treatment, the boy would die. A devout Jehovah’s Witness faith is the only thing stopping the boy from accepting the procedure, as he feels in doing so, he ‘would go against God’s will’. He thinks that to receive the blood of a stranger is unclean and, therefore, a sin, something which wildly contradicts his religious beliefs.

Despite the parents’ reservations about their son’s health, they are keeping firm to the faith; Elders frequent his bedside in a bid to keep the young boy from sinning, and ensuring that foreign blood is not accepted.


Fiona is a highly respected high court judge but soon realises that not everything is plain sailing. Her reputation alone cannot resolve her misfortune.

Fiona not only has a complicated case to resolve—one that could be the difference between life and death—but she also has a crumbling marriage to juggle. Her husband, Jack, wants an open relationship because he feels there is a serious lack of affection between them both. Fiona is horrified at the thought, forcing Jack to leave home.

Fiona throws herself into the case as a result of the breakdown in the marriage. Jack, however, is still at the forefront of her mind, testing Fiona in all aspects of her life. Will she make the right decision? Will the boy live or die?

Fiona meets the boy

After Fiona meets with the boy in the hospital, we see an unusual relationship developing between the two characters. The boy almost idolises Fiona, even as she questions his beliefs. He confirms his refusal to accept the blood transfusion, fully aware that this decision may cost him his life. Despite the stakes, he remains resolute in his willingness to sacrifice himself for his faith. With talents in poetry and violin, he demonstrates intelligence and potential for a promising future under different circumstances. Will this sway Fiona’s decision?

Overall thoughts

I’m not even sure where to begin with this. There is so much more of the story I wanted to tell you about that I had to stop myself. The book is really well written, and it’s almost as if this story isn’t a work of fiction at all. The story seems very real; I wonder if the author had taken inspiration from a real-life story.

I like how this book questions faith in a positive way. It explores questions such as ‘Is your faith worth dying for?’. It dares to go where not many people want to for fear of ostracization. It’s a bold story that asks bold questions and has many twists and turns along the way.

This book resonated with me on an emotional level. I’m not afraid to say that I had a tear in my eye at the end and felt overcome with emotion. I ultimately did not expect the ending, and that feeling has stayed with me.

Favourite Quote from the book

I don’t often highlight or save any text from fiction books, but this descriptive piece really made me chuckle, it’s a great way to describe something:

“An abandoned fifty-nine-year-old woman, in the infancy of old age, just learning to crawl.”

My only criticism is that the book can be a little too descriptive at times. I don’t feel the author necessarily needs to highlight every tiny detail about a chaise lounge, for example, but if you can look past that, it’s a great read, and it won’t take you long to read at all.

The novel is now also a major film starring Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci, so you’ve no excuse!


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My name is Dylan and I like anything tech-related, ironically I work in tech as an Integration Specialist. I recently graduated with a First Class Honours degree from the University of Sunderland. You can usually find me reading a book, playing a game or endlessley scrolling TikTok :D

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