Imagine a world where there is only one human sex.
This is the world that River lives in.
Sixty years after a virus wipes out virtually every boy and man on the planet, fourteen-year-old River only knows this reality. Living in a peaceful matriarchal society, she knows that surviving XY’s exist (she obviously couldn’t without them), but because they are housed in secure and secret sanctuaries, she has never been in the presence of one.
Instead, all she knows of this ‘foreign species’ is what she has learnt in school and from the Granmummas- the generation of women who saw the horrors of the virus sweep over the world.
Reproducing through IVF, women who have male children are forced to give up their boys to the care of the sanctuaries so that they do not become infected and die. Girls are integrated into society, growing up with Courtesy, Agreements, education and peace. The women, who have grieved, moved on and adapted to this new world are strong, resilient and mindful of others.
It’s a pretty safe and secure life.
River believes this, too, until a chance roadside happening when returning home alone from a long journey. This is when she meets Mason, a teenage boy. She doesn’t know where he has come from, or where he has been. She only knows that he is a rarity, and that there are many people that have an interest in him…
This is quite a unique novel that makes you question how the world would be if half the population suddenly died. River and her mother don’t know any different, but River’s Granmumma Kate, who grew up with males in her life, constantly compares the once-was with now. River’s education has ensured her that life is better off now, and that males were often equated to war, violence, rape and death. With no exposure to a real male (until Mason), she had no reason not to believe this was true. Likewise, Mason is convinced that ‘wimmin’ are she-wolves, out to devour and rape males. He has strict ideas about what they should look like, all taught to him by the Unit Fathers of the sanctuaries.
Forced segregation and the ‘brainwashing’ of each sex are just some of the disturbing ideas that the author has introduced with her story, but they are ones that could truly be a reality if such a world existed. Likewise, the idea that the ‘weaker’ sex is only protected for their practicality, and that trade deals with other nations for these commodities could occur, are factors that we don’t want to believe we would stoop to, but which could be a potential scenario, should such a world exist.
As a result, this novel makes you question it all- our preconceptions of others, our way of life, our governing bodies and our safety and security. While I wasn’t a real fan of River’s narrative- her teenage mannerisms and way of speaking frustrated me- the ideas in the novel were certainly thought-provoking and challenging.