In Blue Ticket, Sophie Mackintosh constructs a dystopian vision of modern life for women. Ambiguously set in space and time (given the technology presented we know it takes place around the present day, and not much else), Mackintosh’s universe is one in which a girl’s destiny is set at the time of her first period, when she receives either a white ticket or a blue ticket from the government. These designations are supposedly based on intense scrutiny from the State, and they determine the path each woman will lead. White ticket women, as they’re called, are destined for motherhood, having been deemed worthy of childrearing. Blue ticket women, implanted with a permanent intrauterine device and forbidden from getting pregnant, are bound for the working world, bound for a "free" life that "could change at any time." Each girl must leave her family to start a new life after her ticket is drawn, and the white tickets and blue tickets immediately diverge. The white ticket girls are ferried safely to their destination cities, while the blue ticket girls must brave the open road on foot and alone, fighting for survival and the privilege of an adult life.            

We meet Calla, the narrator, as she teeters on the brink of menarche. One by one her female classmates have disappeared from around her, and she is one of only three girls left in school when her period finally arrives. She draws a blue ticket, and embarks on a new life as a chemist, initially living the free and unencumbered life that blue ticket women are supposed to lead. Yet desire for a child smolders inside her, a “dark” feeling that crawls under her skin until it is impossible to ignore. Desperate, Calla removes her IUD and finds a man, known only as R, to unwittingly father her child. When R learns what she has done he turns his back on her, disgusted by her aberrant behavior.            

Calla’s illicit pregnancy is communicated to the government by her doctor, known as Doctor A. In this world, citizens are required to meet with their doctor regularly, and the doctors, who act as a hybrid between therapist and primary care provider, report their patients’ thoughts and behaviors to the government. Doctor A offers to terminate the pregnancy with no consequences, but Calla refuses, a decision from which there is no coming back. Calla is provided with a backpack of basic survival tools and a map, and told that she must be prepared to flee to the border at any moment—the government will give her a head start to reward her years of loyal service, but even so, they’re sure to find her before she can cross.                  

The question of what will happen if she is caught haunts Calla as her pregnancy progresses and she awaits the signal to flee. When it finally arrives, in the form of government emissaries on her doorstep, Calla’s final view of her old life as she speeds away is of her neighbors destroying her home. On the road, Calla is once again alone and vulnerable. Strangers, eager to take advantage of a lone woman, pose a more immediate threat than the government. Yet Calla’s outlook takes a turn for the better when she meets Marisol, a self-assured blue ticket woman who is also pregnant and headed for the border. The two protect each other, and as time goes on they are joined by other blue ticket women on the run, and one white ticket woman, who fears returning to her husband after an illegal abortion. Determined to escape the lives chosen for them, their freedom rests not only on their individual tenacity, but also on their ability to help each other. Yet the question of who to trust looms large, and casts a shadow as they flee towards a new life.


Blue Ticket offers a meditation on freedom, exploring whether it is possible to live a free life within the bounds of a choice that is made for you. The answer for Calla is a resounding no. Under the guise of providing women with more control over their lives, government delegation of who can and cannot conceive a child becomes a way to enforce norms around how women should behave. And for Calla, the lack of reproductive choice has come to define her life-- no measure of freedom in any other aspect of her life can replace her desire to raise a child. Calla’s yearning for a child is palpable, simmering underneath every line written in the novel, and periodically exploding to the surface in passages so rich with longing that they become almost painful to read. Indeed, the novel suggests that in trying to solve the problem of women being able to “have it all” by taking away that option, women end up with nothing at all.            

The question of abortion in this novel is an interesting one. Abortion is not only legal but actively encouraged for Calla, but is illegal for white ticket women. In this way, Sophie Mackintosh explores the boundaries of the traditional debate around abortion, framing it in the context of who is worthy of having a child. The question is transformed from “should abortion take place?” to “on whom should an abortion take place?” a dangerous question that is antithetical to the current pro-choice movement. Yet Mackintosh’s world is disturbingly close to the modern day United States, in which unequal access to abortion has become the status quo. The novel highlights that in order for abortions to actually facilitate choice for women, they must be equally available. Just as there can be no freedom without the universal right to conceive, there can be no freedom without the universal right to choose whether a pregnancy should be continued or terminated.              

Throughout the novel, Calla ruminates on the qualities that define a good mother, often wondering which “white ticket” traits she lacks. Sipping on a glass of whisky to fit in, and whispering silent apologies to her child, a pregnant Calla wonders; is being a good mother something innate? Is it someone who is always orderly and neat, who follows the rules, abstaining from alcohol and deli meats, and settles down somewhere quiet and child-friendly? Or is a good mother simply any woman who desires a child and resolves to care for and protect them? Unsurprisingly, Mackintosh leans towards the latter answer. Her portrait of Calla is one of a woman whose strength grows as her pregnancy progresses, a woman who has already sacrificed everything for her child, and who would continue to do so no matter the cost.            

Mackintosh also comments on fatherhood, although sightings of men acting as fathers are relatively rare within the novel. In this world any man can become a father, and those who do are rewarded—it is customary for strangers to shower small gifts on fathers when they are seen in public with their children. This detail seems like a wry comment on gender roles, a sly acknowledgment of the kudos that men receive for doing work that would go unrecognized when performed by a woman. Moreover, Mackintosh suggests that men in Blue Ticket often date blue ticket women as young men, before ultimately settling down with a white ticket woman to have a family. They are permitted to be complex and dual, to explore all facets of their personalities and desires. In short, they are not defined by their ability to reproduce, and thus they are truly free.                   

The world that Mackintosh constructs in Blue Ticket is so ambiguously set as to often seem dream-like, the landscape hazy, as though floating in clouds or wrapped in gauze. Yet Mackintosh occasionally adds jolts of familiar detail (a rest-stop diner, the checkout counter at the grocery store, a bus stop), reminding the reader that this world isn’t actually so different from the reality of the present day. In this way, the ambiguous setting serves as a placeholder, allowing any reader to imagine their society degenerating into the dystopia of Blue Ticket. And Mackintosh also compels the reader to compare our world to the one she has constructed, and examine the ways in which our freedom is tenuous, or perhaps, merely an illusion.   


Penguin Random House

Place Published

United States



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