author : virginia bergin
She’s been taught to fear him.
He’s been taught to fear her.
What if they’re both wrong?
In River’s world, XYs are a relic of the past, along with things like war and violence. Thanks to the Global Agreements, River’s life is simple, safe, and peaceful…until she comes across a body in the road one day. A body that is definitely male, definitely still alive.
River isn’t prepared for this. There’s nothing in the Agreements about how to deal with an XY. Yet one lies before her, sick, suffering, and at her mercy.
River can kill him, or she can save him. Either way, nothing will ever be the same.
I have too many thoughts on this book and most of them are not great, so I’ll start with the positives.
The concept was interesting. It hooked me, made me want to read to see where the author would go with it. In The XY, a plague wiped out most of the people on Earth with an XY chromosome, which changes everything. A few generations later, a teen girl finds an XY, a boy, and doesn’t understand what he is or how he’s alive in the outside world. And nothing afterward happens the way you’d think it would.
The problem, or one of them, with the XY is that it has a rather optimist view of women. I’m a feminist, which means believing in equality, and this book is surprisingly hard-hitting when it comes to the gender binary, considering all people born with XY chromosomes after the plague are kept apart from all of society so they won’t die. The book assumes that without these XYs, everything would be . . . Not perfect, but definitely an idealized world. It seems to take the idea that most terrible things in the world happened because of men (which is valid, as historically men have been the ones in positions of power to make these decisions) but then takes it farther. Aggression, suspicion, jealousy, violence–those are all XY traits, in this book. It’s like no woman would ever be selfish or radical or explosive.
The main character knows what dolls are, but she doesn’t know what video games are because those are an XY thing (and only for the very old women, the last generation to live before the plague, and I guess they only like those things because of . . . XY influence?? I don’t know). There’s a whole parody on International Women’s Day because the world in this book has the same but for men, and the main character repeatedly says that spending even one day on the topic is a waste of time. It’s a little too on the nose and enraging.
A lot of the premise of the book focuses on how women in the new world wouldn’t recognize an XY because they can’t comprehend what a man looks like. I’ve never seen a unicorn but I can sure comprehend what it looks like. Even older women who lived before the plague don’t know what an XY looks like?? The world still has access to the internet, to all sorts of communication. They can watch old videos and movies and access pictures. The MC doesn’t watch these because she can’t relate to them. They aren’t realistic. It’s like . . . Suddenly everyone in society has no interest in any entertainment. The MC looks down on her friend, the only person around who appreciates literature. It’s understandable for them not to look for entertainment in a survival situation, but this isn’t one. They’re society is fully functioning. The MC has plenty of time to sit around and feel sorry for herself.
The book tried to be trans-inclusive in its language which was refreshing. It consistently mentioned that this was a genetic plague, so it would refer to killing all the XYs instead of referring to killing all men. There was a vague mention once that people could continue dressing/identifying the way they’d like after the plague, which was never mentioned again and was sort of thrown out the window once it was apparent that no XXs the MC, River, knew identified themselves as trans. It seems like no one in their world understands it as anything but distinctly male and female.
Which . . . For a world where women are the only ones left, you would think we could get some F/F rep. Instead there are like the blandest female relationships here so nothing could be misconstrued and if it is interpreted as a relationship, someone else could claim you misinterpreted it. This is when I start hitting my head against my desk.
This review has gone on too long already and I haven’t even gotten to the plot. There were plot points that were picked up for no reason and dropped out of nowhere. No consequences for anything, no cohesive storyline. The best thing is that the book should have about fifty more pages and it doesn’t. It just ends. There’s no satisfying conclusion. Please don’t keep reading, like I did, and expect actual answers. You’ll get none.
I can’t recommend this book. It’s just not very well done, and it’ll leave you more frustrated than anything else.