This is going to be a review full of mixed opinions – in some ways I really enjoyed this book, but there were also some things about it that I really, really didn’t like as well. The premise of this novel was something that really interested me; who wouldn’t be curious about a world without men?! And I did find myself invested in the plot… but, the main character really annoyed me & there were some features of this version of the future that I didn’t think were right, & some which seemed a bit sexist.
This review will contain some spoilers.
I put this on my TBR list for obvious reasons; a world without men is certainly an interesting concept & I was curious about how Virginia Bergin would build up this world, & overall the book was okay in my opinion. To start with I was really confused – I felt like I’d been thrown in at the deep end & had absolutely no idea what was going on, but as I got further into the book I started to enjoy it & I think my confusion just demonstrates the originality of Bergin’s world.
As I got deeper into the book I became more curious about the world but started to realise that I hated the main character, River. I found her spoilt & selfish, & there was a point where I didn’t want to continue with the book because she was that annoying. But! The plot was interesting enough that I did continue reading it & at the end I was more tolerant of River, which just shows that the character development in the book was of a pretty good standard.
My main issues with this book fall under the world building; in this world there is no war, everyone cares about the environment deeply, some resources are scarce, people get to choose what they learn about & people are free to love & be whoever or whatever they want. So far so good, right? There are somethings that I really didn’t like though – for example, sports were no longer a thing… I don’t just mean they became less popular, I mean they literally are not a thing. Neither is working out or going to the gym. There is a scene where Mason asks for a running machine so he can keep up with his training & River doesn’t even know what a running machine looks like!! She stands directly next to one & has no idea. I hated this because it just seems so stereotypical & sexist – just because there were no men left living in the wider community that doesn’t mean that sports & fitness would suddenly die out!
Now, the concept of wars no longer existing is great – what a glorious world that would be! And I understood Bergin’s thought process behind this; so many males had died that people just didn’t see the point in fighting anymore, everyone was too heartbroken, which is a totally plausible idea… I suppose. What I don’t agree with is that women aren’t able to get angry enough, aggressive enough, power-hungry enough (yes, I know that makes no sense) that we would all just live in harmony – to be honest it’s just totally ludicrous! It’s not believable. I think it’s totally sexist to assume that all our social problems would disappear just because the men had – women can be just as vile as men!
Additionally, the idea that trans individuals & same-sex couples would suddenly become totally acceptable without men is also ridiculous – it’s so sexist to assume that it’s only, or mainly, men that have an issue with these ways of living. Obviously, in a world without men, women would have to either date other women or trans men if they wanted companionship, & there’s probably millions of women all over the world that would be 100% okay with this, but that doesn’t mean everyone would be… someone, somewhere would try to fight this idea & I’m shocked that Bergin doesn’t seem to think this is the case.
Bergin also created a list of rules, or laws, that everyone lives by & one of them says that all children are our children – this basically means that everyone treats everyone like they’re family & that everyone helps out via. co-parenting etc. This is a cool idea, but I also find it a little sexist to assume that every woman would be okay with being a ‘mother’, even if not biologically; not every female is maternal!
Another issue I had was the idea that religion would die out in these circumstances – I understand the idea that after so many people died some people may give up their faith, but all throughout history thousands of people have been killed by plagues or illnesses & religion hasn’t died out yet; so why would this virus be any different? This world also doesn’t really focus on the history of the world (River even sees studying history as totally pointless, & this is mentioned more than once) & as someone who thinks it’s really important that we encourage people to learn about our history – especially right now – I think it’s a really irresponsible message to send out to the YA community – especially right now.
The final thing I’m going to mention is that there wasn’t a single disabled person mentioned (& no, I’m not including the elderly characters with walking sticks, wheelchairs, etc.) – someone please explain to me how men disappearing would cure all disabilities!!!
I could probably write another few paragraphs about the issues I had with the worldbuilding, but I’m going to stop because I’m winding myself up, & I don’t want to make out like this book is a hot mess, because it isn’t – the actual plot was really gripping. I loved the oldest generation & some of their dialogue really made me laugh. I also found Mason’s mental state really interesting & I wish this had been explored more; it seems like there’s going to be a sequel so maybe it will be explored more then. I also liked that Bergin did make the reactions to Mason quite mixed – some people were fascinated, some scared, some relieved & some angry. Additionally, I thought it was great that River didn’t just fall in love with Mason, instead she stayed faithful to the girl she was already sort-of dating & that was 100% fab. There was also a collection of intense plot twists in the last quarter that had me hanging off of the edge of my seat & the ending has left me wanting to read the sequel because I really want to know what the heck is going to happen next.
Hm, like I said at the start, this has been a mixed review… this book is certainly problematic but the plot is also quite gripping so I did enjoy it. I think the book definitely could have been written better & I hope that other people have mentioned the issues I have so than Bergin is able to rectify some of what she got wrong if she does write a sequel.