From the author of H2O—In a society where women rule and men are almost extinct, River discovers a dark secret that will change her world as she knows it…
Sixty years ago, a virus wiped out almost all men on Earth. Now women run the world, and men are kept in repopulation facilties, safe from the deadly virus. At least, that's what everyone has been led to believe…until River discovers a young man on a country road—injured but alive. Mason has been outside for five days since escaping from his facility, and no one can understand how he has survived. Hiding the boy violates the rules of their world, but as the women of the town band together to try to save him, River begins to suspect that the truth behind Mason's existence is darker than she could have imagined.
Author of the H2O duology (H2O and The Storm) (UK titles: The Rain and The Storm), and The XY (UK title: Who Runs The World?).
Born 1966 in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, UK. I studied psychology and (briefly) fine art/film and video at university. I have had lots of different jobs – so many I’ve lost count – including writing tv documentaries and online education projects. I live on a council estate in Bristol, UK.
ARC recieved via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
I was so excited when I was approved for this on NetGalley and it's such a horrific letdown. This is pure man hate, it takes 78% for anyone to even dare to suggest that Mason might be a human and even then everybody other than our main character, River, disagrees. There is also talk that he belongs to a different species (and not in a jokey way- they are entirely serious when they say this), which is never challenged. This is marketed as YA, although River's voice is incredibly childish, and this fact just makes the whole book even worse. At a time when young women should be learning about positive feminism and equality, they are being told to hate men and that all men are out to kill/rape them.
It's also important to mention that there are no trans people in this book. It's literally treated as a cisgender, virtually 100% heterosexual universe. It's mentioned at one point how some women have turned to lesbianism because there are no men (not because they're actually attracted to women) and River seems horrified at the thought.
This had such amazing potential, how have the women survived and grown without men? This isn't explored, we are simply told that the world is a better place. There is no crime, there is no war, there aren't really any disagreements.
There is next to no discussion about anything apart from how awful men were and how much better life is without them. To top this off, Mason is portrayed as stupid, he knows nothing about the world and shows little/no curiosity in it.
Also, River is told that she has to cover up (literally wear more clothes, she wasn't walking around naked) now there is a boy around or he will rape her. This is a ridiculous and frankly dangerous suggestion.
This quote is subject to change by final publication And I seriously hope it does. 'MAN MEN KNIVES MURDER RAPE GUNS WAR KILL DEATH'
This is repeated incessantly for 78%. The same quote is used several times to reinforce that women do not commit crimes and all men are terrifying murderous beasts. Basically this whole book it made up of awful quotes about how men are terrible and women are amazing. Despite the fact that Mason is not scary or murderous or violent and does nothing to suggest that he could be- all he wants to do is run- the opinions of the vast majority of characters do not change. There is a very, very small bit of progression in River as she tries to help Mason towards the end but it is simply not enough.
This book is everything misogynists believe feminism to be. It will cause serious problems, it's incredibly offensive and I genuinely don't think it should be published. It is that bad.
On top of that, the writing is awful. There is an annoying habit of repeating things in allcaps. For example (this is not a quote but an example) There are people with guns -GUNS!- on their backs . This happens several times. Then there is horrible description- this is a direct quote, again liable to change by publication: 'It's red, that blood. It's red. It's bright bloody red'.
For reasons I don't understand, the author decided she couldn't use normal words. The past is referred to as the 'once-was', democracy is 'democra-zzzzzz', and the matriarchs are called 'Granmummas'. I understand that in 60 years slang may have moved on but 'democra-zzzzzz' is just absolutely taking the piss.
There is also the single worst description of a penis that I have ever come across (again liable to change before publication) I see a penis, dangling. Scrotum. Weird, floppy things, all of them.
Trigger warnings: attempted rape, murder, some super weird discussions of gender.
There are a lot of terrible reviews of this book. A lot of reviews claiming it's man-hating bullshit. A lot of reviews claiming that it's TERF territory. A lot of reviews claiming that the idea that crime would completely disappear in a female-only society. And to some extent I agree. But I also feel like a lot of those reviews got so caught up in being SERIOUSLY PISSED OFF that they kind of missed the point a little bit.
The gist of this story is that 60 years ago, a virus broke out that basically killed anybody with XY chromosomes. So men and boys were sent off to live in giant bubbles, basically. The human race survives through IVF. River has grown up in a female only society with a clear hierarchy. You have the Grandmummas, who remember the time before. You have the Mummas, many of whom either lost sons or who gave them up to the Sanctuaries so that society could continue. You have the Teens, River's generation, who are just becoming aware of the politics of their world. And you have the Littler Ones, the children of the world.
So here's the thing: this is set 60 years after any of these people last saw a man. SIXTY YEARS. River has never seen anyone male, never spoken to anyone male, never had to use male pronouns, never understood in any level of detail what it is to be male. When she encounters Mason, it's basically the equivalent of her coming face to face with the Loch Ness Monster. She doesn't know what he is or how to react.
And yes, she reacts very badly. She calls him "it" repeatedly (for at least half the book, to be honest). She treats him like shit. She makes assumptions based on how she's been brought up to view men. She's also a 14 year old girl, who are quite possibly the most stubborn, convinced-I'm-right creatures on the face of the earth. Her mother's not much better, but I kind of feel like she's that way because she's a political representative and understands the bigger picture.
And yes, River assumes that Mason - like any man - wants to rape and kill her. Because that's what she's been raised to believe. But on the other side of the equation, we have Mason. Mason ALSO assumes that women want to rape and kill him, to steal his sperm. Because that's what he's been raised to believe. He's been raised in a culture of toxic masculinity, where he expects women to look like the bikini babes in video games and porn videos. A culture that tells him that women are soft and weak and unable to cope without men around. A culture that's kept him intentionally ignorant of the world. A culture where all that matters is gaming and being as fit as you possibly can. A culture where the top man in each unit has a gun and isn't afraid to use it. Mason is just as afraid of River as she is of him.
So if this book had been a dual narration that featured BOTH OF THEM adapting to the idea of the other's existence breaking down all their preconceived ideas? It could have been phenomenal. Especially if the slightly grating random ALL CAPS BOLDED WORDS thing used throughout had gone away...
Instead, it fell short for me. I wanted to know more about the world, about the virus, about how the Sanctuaries worked. And it was juuuuuust starting to give me a little bit more of that when it ended. So...that was less than ideal.
(Also? This isn't a world with no crime. We're told that multiple times. So I have no idea where all those reviews are getting that from. It's a world with VERY LITTLE crime, compared to the current world. But it's also a world where crime is dealt with publicly and seriously in front of a jury of 150 people, from Teens through to Grandmummas. It's mentioned that rape does occur, but very infrequently, and it's handled seriously.)
As far as the trans representation goes, I do agree that it basically ignores the idea of trans women. There's never any mention made of what happens to trans women in the Sanctuaries. There *IS* mention of there being some women in the Sanctuaries, older women who volunteered to work there. But trans women are never mentioned.
Meanwhile, there are multiple mentions of trans men. When Mason is worried about his appearance and having facial hair, he's told not to worry because there's no shortage of that in this world. There's some comment at some point about how River's never met anyone who was born XY, but that she knows people who are. Or something?? IDK, you guys. It's late and I'm tired, but I wanted to review this book straight away. Basically, trans men are mentioned a bunch of times. It's with trans women that the story falls down.
I think at the end of the day, this is a book that plays on Fear of the Other. Yes, there's a lot of hate from female characters towards male characters. But they haven't seen a man in 60 years. That's a long ass time. Think about the hate we've seen this week alone in Virginia and from the Cheeto in Chief. And we're talking there about a society that sees people of colour every damn day. You know?
So in summary: the writing was...kind of annoying. The language choices were odd and fairly juvenile. River reads as INCREDIBLY young. This could have been much stronger with a split narration. Trans women are basically ignored as a concept. But the book as it stands? Not as bad as people are making out.
So many of the reviews for this book seem to utterly misunderstand it, so I thought I would offer some balance. While it was flawed, certainly, I thought Bergin was incredibly ambitious in what she tried to achieve and what I would really like to do is travel to her future and have a good look around in all of the corners we only glimpse briefly through the novel.
As I read it, Bergin was holding a mirror up to the world we occupy today, reversing gender roles with some exaggeration to make a point, and asking us to question our perceptions of gender. We aren't supposed to think River's world is a perfect society any more than we are supposed to think Offred's society in a Handmaid's Tale is an excellent solution, or the pig-run farm in Animal Farm is a utopia. River's idea of men as rapists and killers isn't any more accurate than the idea of girls in short skirts 'asking for it'. The whole conversation in which Kate tells her to put clothes on or she will get raped is a comment on our arbitrary social norms and the artificial divisions we create between genders. In the book, the lack of war isn't because only men start wars, just that half the world's population disappeared virtually overnight and resources were needed elsewhere. All these things are there to be read, if you read the book that is in front of you rather than the one you want to fight with.
Could the prose have been more sophisticated? Yes. Could the plot have been more finely tuned? Yes. But calling Who Runs the World anti-feminist or anti-men is like saying that The Hunger Games promotes children killing each other; the majority of teen readers are fully capable of the kind of analysis needed to understand this book, as long as you don't insist they do it in class.
Thankfully, as I write this, men have not been wiped out by a virus, so we have an opportunity to create a better world without killing off half its population. The message I took from Who Runs the World? is this: The fictional men don't meet any women until they have been raised on a diet of videogames and pornography, but luckily in our world, we exist side-by-side. Let's get to know each other.
I'm finding some of the reviews of this book slightly amusing - mainly the ones proclaiming that this book is 'man-hate' and the exact thing that men think feminism is. It's amusing because there are so, so many dystopian books where women barely exist except as love interest. Where women are total afterthought if even that. And these is popular, well-known dystopian fiction? Why are people not running around talking about how misogynistic it is that every time male writers re-imagine the world they can't seem to place women, well... anywhere. Listen, writing a story that flips the role is not 'man-hating,' it's just telling a story where the roles are flipped.
The problem with this book certainly wasn't 'man-hate.' It was unrealised potential and lackluster worldbuilding. There were so many things about this book that I found incredibly difficult to believe:
- war and violence is more or less over in this matriarchy. Because.......? The idea that only men are to blame for war and violence is honestly super RACIST (yeah, you thought I was going to say sexist, right?) considering so many wars have been based off of extremist racist ideology, and the suppression of peoples considered 'lesser than.' How can you create a world devoid of war and violence but ignore the part that race has, and continues to, play in war and violence worldwide?
- religion no longer exists. Ummmmm... it's been only sixty years, and people tend to turn to religion in trying times, not away from it. I would have accepted it if there was a legitimate explanation for it. But no, it was just a throwaway comment?
- the language. Okay, so some of the 'slang' used in this world is obviously supposed to be 'futuristic.' But I can't imagine why one would change perfectly useful words like "child" and "toddler" for useless, childish words like "littler-one." Languages usually progress through time, not regress. And I would accept regression if there was an explanation but the grandmamas are of our time, presumably. So why should language suddenly become fairly impractical? Speaking of the grandmamas and language, there was a lot of slang mix-up. Some things I could imagine being said in the year 2017, some stuff from the year 1960.
- the sanctuaries. Okay... the sanctuaries are literally not explained at all but whatever I picked up about it makes no sense. Who is in charge of the sanctuaries? Presumably women are the ultimate authorities since they have certain says about what happens to the men there. So why are the men in the sanctuaries being taught the same misogynistic crap that men are taught in our world today? Mason is literally just a sexist guy from 2017??? He's all 'you're not like a normal woman because you're not feminine in a traditional way' but if no woman in this world is feminine in our traditional way then WHY would the men in the sanctuary learn about women who ARE traditional in a feminine way? It makes NO sense. It's like... 'matriarchy' part of the world has moved on and become totally different because there are no men. But wherever the men are have stayed stagnant because............???????????
-transmen. So the book does imply there are transmen but it explains nothing about them and we never meet one. So it seemed it was just something tacked on without much thought.
There were also other issues to do with the book that had nothing to do with my inability to believe. I found the characters to be really inconsistent, honestly. Especially Plat and Kate, who went from WE NEED TO PROTECT THIS BOY to WHATEVER I DON'T CARE WHAT HAPPENS TO HIM in a pretty short time.
I did like the characters, save for the inconsistencies. And I liked River. The writing was also pretty good, except for the random capital letters sometimes. There were a few issues with pacing though, and the ending was rather abrupt.
I've already read some of these 'what happens when women rule the world?' kind of books: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and The Power by Naomi Alderman. Both were... lacking. Herland was lacking a plot and very heteronormative. The Power was very racist and also kind of lacking a plot. Who Runs the World? has an interesting plot and is fast-paced (unlike the former two) but it's world-building is much less developed, and its characters a little less interesting than the others. But if you're interested in these types of books, I wouldn't discourage you from picking this up. I did find it interesting but just... lacking.
Lastly: I was left with two questions at the end of this book: Were Plat and River a couple? I assumed they were throughout the entire novel because they acted like a couple but I was confused towards the end when Plat talks about how River might be in love with Mason but seems to... not care?
Sigh. I had SUCH high hopes for this book and when I first heard about it I immediately requested a copy to review which I was lucky to get. I’m glad I did because honestly I probably wouldn’t spend my money on this book. I’m sure that some other people will love it but it just wasn’t really for me and I got to the end and just felt like the whole book lacked what I had been hoping for.
I thought the idea of a society where the world is being run by women after men have been wiped out by a disease was super interesting and I’m a fan of dystopian novels, normally. But this just didn’t really work. I thought this was going to be a wonderful feminist novel that I would love whole heartedly but it didn’t feel feminist to me at all. Erasing an entire gender to make women the ‘important’ ones is the complete opposite of feminism and equality. This book is like a manual for man hating but in an awful way. River is brought up in a society where she is taught that men are all dangerous and will rape, murder or attack her. To me this is such a dangerous idea to float around in a book, even in a dystopian world, and it just didn’t sit right with me.
When I got to the end of this book I was so very confused. There were so many moments where I thought ‘Ooh, this is the moment it will all make sense’ but I am still waiting. I’m not sure I really understand the dystopian society that has been created and so I couldn’t fully embrace the story itself. I almost felt that I had been dropped into the wrong part of this book and would have actually preferred to read more about the ‘before’. How did their society end up how it was? What triggered the disease? What sacrifices were made for the women to survive? Why did the disease only wipe out men? How did the world only being women mean wars came to an end? I just wanted more information so that I could understand this new world more. Just thinking about getting the answers to those questions makes me see how much I didn’t know about this world.
The characters were okay. I felt quite neutral about River, our narrator, but I did like Kate. I thought she was quite funny and sassy. River’s voice was very immature though and I just couldn’t connect with her.
All that said, I did read this book quite quickly and the writing style is fairly simple. I just question whether the fact I skim read some of this says it all? An excellent premise it just wasn’t executed how I had hoped.
Thanks to MyKindaBook for my advanced copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.
*I read this book ages ago and upon reflection it is one of the worst books I've ever read and I feel like can't compare with a lot of the 2-star rating I gave it so, down to one star it is lol*
*tbh probably 1.5 stars but I had fun writing this review so I'll round up*
So I'm going to preface this review by saying that I only read this book because my boyfriend and I were in Barnes and Noble and we had this brilliant idea that he would pick me out a terrible sounding book to read, and then I would write a review on it. As a joke. So. I didn't go into this with amazing expectations and lo and behold, this book didn't even meet those lol hELLPPPP.
Here is the report I wrote my boyfriend hahahahaaaaaaa
The XY BOOK REPORT:
Review: So this book sucked. It’s unfortunate because I know how hard authors work on their books but like…did people actually work on this….? I had a good time with this whole joke in the first 100 pages or so because the book was so absurd, but eventually it got old and I didn’t want to read it anymoreeeee. The plot went nowhere, any attempt to be “deep” or “meaningful” failed (because it was all goddamn clichés), and nothing really made sense. The world wasn’t developed at all—I had about a million questions once I reached the end of this book. How can these women have children without men? How did Mason find his mom? What are these council meetings? How exactly does the virus work? How do the sanctuaries work? This book is so strange because it just feels like I read 320 pages of a skeleton of a story that wouldn’t work even if it was written well. It also has this uncomfortable feminist vibe—and LISTEN, I’m a feminist, but this book was brutal to men; they are not cast in any good light. In the author’s note, the author talks about wanting to bring a different perspective to gender, but I dunno…I have just come away with a rather uncomfortable eck feeling. Basically, this book was such a weird experience that it’s even hard to articulate exactly how I feel about it, other that it was not good. Hopefully, if this can get published, one of my books can also one day be published.
-The book starts off by the author letting you fill in a blank so you can dedicate the book to yourself. I feel like this is the author trying to get pity readers, aka a cry for help. Naturally, I dedicated it to you.
-I am literally three lines in and I already fucking hate this book. Why are you doing this to me??? There’s this thing that I know writers do because I myself am a writer who starts books. Let me explain: when authors are starting a book, they try to make every single line of the first chapter all clever and fun to like SHOW OFF our CHARMING WIT. Usually, this get fixed to not stand out so much. HOWEVER, here, it has not been. A prime example of this is: “Too bad, so sad, bye-bye—that’s what her granmumma Kate (who refuses to be called Granmumma) says about all the things that once were and are no more. Too bad, so sad, bye-bye.” P.S. why is everyone called “mumma”? What was wrong with Mom?
-Page 3, already got some more gold. “A stranger in strange clothes. Under a filthy white T-shirt, an enormous, black tick shape on it, a flat chest without even the tiniest of breasts rises and falls.” OH MY GOD AND THEN “There is a lumpiness in the crotch” LORD JESUS SAVIOR HELP ME.
-Another pet peeve of mine—the fucking prologue is written in third person but the actual book is written in first person. I know it’s meant to be all existential and dramatic but it’s just unnecessary.
-I am aware this report is already like a page long this is going to be like 20000 pages Antonio.
-This author is trying so hard to make the writing dramatic. Random use of bolding letters and CAPS are throwing me OFF.
-After a riveting chapter 1, chapter 2 begins with the beautiful line, “I glance back, midsprint, see it hauling its shiny, red leggings. See a penis, dangling. Scrotum. Strange, floppy things, all of them.” How did anyone write this???????
-Okay…so the main character has just explained that there are no men in her community, that she’s never seen one, but that someone is able to choose to make themselves male. I might be reading too much into this, but I’m kinda unsettled at this book making the allusion that a transgender man isn’t a real man.
-Every line in this book either doesn’t make sense or is trying to be dramatic and isn’t. You know how I said at the beginning of books authors sometimes try and be excessive before moving on into their “real” writing style? Well I guess I’ve entered hell, because this is the real writing style ladies and gentlemen. Annnddd I hate it.
-“My mumma has left the pointless kitchen conversation and is washing her armpits in the sink.” Is this normal? Am I missing something?
-Chapter 9 is named “Poo.” Can I die now?
-I’m about 100 pages into this book and nothing really has happened. There keep being random diversions that take up unnecessary space and make me want to pull my hair out. Like right now, we’re having a conversation about poop. I wish I was kidding.
-Another petpeeve of mine: when all of the names in a book are stupidly mixed between “normal” name and “fantasy” name with no explanation. We got River, Sweet, Plat, Yaz, Akesa, Silver-Moon (my personal fav), and then we got Kate and Mason.
-NOTHING IS HAPPENING
-I really just want this to be a book about the Amazons from Greek Mythology. Can someone do that for me? Thanks.
-Guys. There’s a random division in this book (like, the book is supposed to be in parts, but part 1 didn’t have a title) that’s called “A Boy on Planet Girl.” #yikes Are we in a horrible Disney Channel Original movie about aliens? I think soooo
-Real critique, all joking aside: my number one problem with this book is that it’s trying to be very dramatic and humorous at the same time, but fails at both. This entire story just feels like someone wrote terrible fanfiction, and their friend edited it the best they could, but since it was a friend, they were unable to tell them it was terrible.
-I’m about 200 pages in and nothing has happened. The other biggest critique I have is that this book is truly BORING. I have a feeling it’s supposed to be a character-based book, but the characters are one-dimensional. The world is confined to this one house. Nothing is interesting.
-The only way I’m getting through this quickly is that the writing is so quick and choppy and makes no sense haha. For example, there’s this line “My secret things were my little, fiddly electromechanical projects—things I took apart and put back together again—the bones of birds, and feathers, feathers, feathers.” Uhhh do those two pieces of that one sentence seem like two different thoughts smashed together to you? Or has this book just driven me crazy?
-The best way I can describe this book is that it’s a very strange concept that goes nowhere, and it tries to be humorous and dramatic, but succeeds at neither.
-There’s about 3 sentences where this book switches to 2nd person because of course it does.
-I have just reached the first what I would call “event” in this book, and I just freaking hate it. Like the book has been rather light-hearted (or trying to be; it hasn’t really been working) so far, and now something super dark has happened and JUST. WHAT!! Tonally, this book is all OVER.
-The event, btw, is that River, the main character, kills a man. It literally adds nothing to the story. River “feels” this morally, but it’s not written well enough for me to feel it with her. I also just don’t understand what this added to the “plot.” (The “ ” is because there wasn’t a plot)
-So the end of this book has Mason (the “XY” rolls eyes) trying to find his mother, and River takes him to this woman to have him do a DNA test. So they do that, and the woman goes, “Okay, this’ll take 24 hours” but then she’s like “JK here’s his mom.” ???? How did they know?? UM?
Maybe 1.5 stars? Atrociously written. Both muddled and rushed. If the thought experiment about gender and sex has any value, it's certainly not clear to me.
I can see where a lot of people feel their hackles rising while reading this. It relies on some pretty extreme stereotypes of men and women (men: violent dirty rapists to be feared; women: mothers who foster world peace) and doesn't do a good job of explaining how humans are more complex than that. It excludes trans people from any meaningful discussion of a virus that affects humans at the chromosome level. And it is peppered with asinine ALL CAPS and bolded and italicized words that exhaust and irritate.
I think the author's question when she wrote this book was what is a woman?. And while I don't think this is an intentionally TERF-y mess, I do think there's no way Bergin could really truly discuss "what a woman is" while only stuffing humans into XY and XX boxes.
Unfortunately, whatever merits this book's subject matter might have, I can't get past how much I hated the writing.
This was an okay-ish book set about sixty years from now where, following a global virus that wiped out all the male humans, women now run the world. And the world is a nicer place.
I was really intrigued to read this and it had a lot of promise but ultimately there was a bit too much waffle from the MC and not enough exploration of some key gender concepts.
I've read reviews where people have found this quite a man-hatey, rad-fem book. I can see why, I guess. The author has set up a world where men have disappeared and subsequently so did all the crime and greed.
But this is a bit of a post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc (I know! Latin! And so early in the morning) argument and I don't think it was what the author meant. Just because the Utopian society came about after the men were wiped out, doesn't mean it came about *because* the men were wiped out. I think the author was actually trying to say that it was a global cataclysm that lead to a society where there was no crime or greed.
And yes, a lot of the characters do speak about men in disparaging terms, but the only characters who do this are the ones who have never known men. And I guess if you've never known men, you might hear about all the awful things that happened pre-apocalypse and think that men were the root of all evil. When River meets Mason, she refers to him as 'it', which is pretty awful, yes, but don't forget she's grown up in a world that has no male pronouns, no boys or men. For River, meeting Mason is like aliens descending to Earth.
And Mason? He's misogynistic, thinks women are weaker than men, that they should dress like bikini babes. He's grown up in a battery farm where violent video games are the only source of entertainment, where boys and men are kept in militaristic cells and violence is the norm. We're all a product of our upbringing and Mason is definitely a product of his.
So why only three stars (and I'm being generous with three stars)? I guess it's because this actually wasn't a great book. The characters were a bit limp and I never really got a feel for who they were. The main character, River, was annoying and childish and spoke in random all-caps to get her stroppy point across. I was quite surprised she was considered mature enough to have a vote on the collective council, to be honest. None of the characters really grew or changed and I found them a bit meh.
Also, the author never mentions what happens to trans women in the male sanctuaries (in fact, we don't learn a lot about the male sanctuaries at all, other than that they're violent places). Are there trans women? I think in a book that sets out to explore the concept of gender, it was a mistake to leave this out. Trans men are mentioned in a kind of oblique way, and actually it would have been better if this could have been explored a bit more.
There was a kind-of romance, but I was never really sure if it was romance or just friendship and it seemed really tepid.
The plot went well for the first half of the book and I could see lots of different directions it could have gone in, but the second half of the book just fizzled out and the ending was more of a whimper than a bang.
So yeah, it was okay and it had a lot of potential but it could have been a lot better and would probably have worked better as a dual-narrative book.
I love books for the way they can drop a question into your mind, light a spark and leave you to examine it. Who Runs the World? by Virginia Bergin (Macmillan) is a book that does just that. It's a book that makes you think and, above all, question. What would it be like? What would I do? What do I believe?
'Welcome to the matriarchy. Sixty years after a virus has wiped out almost all the men on the planet, things are pretty much just as you would imagine a world run by women might be: war has ended; greed is not tolerated; the ecological needs of the planet are always put first. In two generations, the female population has grieved, pulled together and moved on, and life really is pretty good - if you're a girl. It's not so great if you're a boy, but fourteen-year-old River wouldn't know that. Until she met Mason, she thought they were extinct.'
There's a lot to love in this book. I was hooked from the very first page. No, before that. I was hooked before I'd finished reading the blurb. The concept of this book is so big and bold and I was afraid that the book wouldn't live up to it. But for me it totally did. Because Bergin hasn't tried to give us answers. Instead she has imagined and explored a scenario and created it in a way that draws the contemporary reader in and makes us think and imagine the answers for ourselves. She explores stereotypes and encourages us to think about how we perceive gender and society.
In Who Runs the World? Bergin has reimagined the teens and young adults of today's society as the grandmummas in her book. It's a brilliant device to enable her to use contemporary idiom in the book and to help us place ourselves in the story. We would be those grandmummas. We would be living that life and seeing through their eyes and experience. It also helps the reader to imagine our own futures and where we could be as a society. Where we want to be. What kind of a world we want to live in.
This is a book that you could race through and enjoy for it's story. But it is also a book that you can, and should, sit with. Take time over. Think about. Talk about. It's the kind of book that will give back what you put in. I wish it was out in the world earlier in the year so that lots of young adults could read it and think about the questions it raises and their own answers to those questions. Because this is a book that will make people want to have a voice and stand up to make their future better. And by the time they read this they will have missed their chance to vote to do so.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
3.5* - an interesting exploration of a female-only apocalypse.
I was excited by the premise of this book - after all, it's an intriguing proposition, isn't it? What would happen if there was a disease that wiped men out, leaving only women to rule the world?
The book explored the notion from an unusual angle - depicting a society where showing emotions was encouraged, and where women coexisted in relative harmony. Their peace and quiet is shattered by the arrival of Mason, a boy, who has escaped from a Sanctuary (where male babies are transported for their own safety).
I really enjoyed the characterisation in this book - in particular, Kate, with her reminiscing of the past (i.e our present). That was a nice touch. However, for me, the world that they inhabited just fell a little flat. There were a few confusing elements - e.g. they could still generate electricity, but couldn't raise livestock - these sort of questions weren't really explored, and this was slightly frustrating at times. I also found it difficult to grasp what their world actually looked like. Also, who genetically modified the men to help them return to society? What was the motivation? Perhaps this was clear in the book and I just missed it - but for me personally, it felt a little confusing.
I'd like to say though, that overall, I wanted to keep on reading right through to the end, which is always a good sign. It's definitely an interesting enough idea to make it a worthwhile read.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
The XY is set in a futuristic village in the UK, during a time where society is almost exclusively formed by women. Men have become almost extinct due to a deadly virus that attacks the Y chromosomes in their DNA. They have not been seen outside of a sanctuary (a facility that keeps them isolated from the outside world) in over 60 years.
In the village, only the elders possess knowledge about the once-was (the time before the virus). Said knowledge gives them control and authority over the younger generations.
When River, a teenage girl, meets a boy in the woods, this is both a shocking and life-changing event for her. Her first impulse is to be afraid of ”it”, since she believes the “creature” might try to kill or rape her. (She’s heard stories about them doing these things in the past) At one point, she compares the boy to a unicorn, as if seeing him is no different from encountering a mythical entity.
Even though the story felt kind of stuck at times and I didn’t fall in love with any of characters or the narrative, I am intrigued by what the book represents.
This is the type of novel that requieres you to reflect on certain questions. Like for example: Why is the virus only affecting men? How does the virus work exactly? What would happen if the situation was reverse? Will there be peace or chaos?
I definitely enjoyed reading this and analyzing its content afterwards. I don’t think it’s for everyone but if the concept interests you, go for it.
Finally have the emotional strength to write a review, this book is god awful. I thought it would be a delightful post apocalyptic feminist story based on the synopsis but it was ridiculously trans exclusionary and it refers to lesbian/bi gals in a disgusting manner. Idk how anybody could read this and take anything positive from it at all. It simplified feminism down to hating and fearing men. It’s a poor woman’s version of The Power - Naomi Alderman.
I read this sometime last year and it’s still probably the worst book I’ve ever read (sorry @ the author) and I truly don’t know how this even made it onto bookshelves like wow, I hate it.
The XY is a compelling and unique work of speculative fiction that asks the question, what if? What if a drastic illness reduced the population by half. What would the world look like? How would things have changed 60 years on? What if the half that was left to start over were all female? What if a young girl, who has only know life in this new era, met a boy, a strange creature she recognises only from history lessons? How would she treat him, how would it change her world?
River lives in a world two generations on from an event that changed everything. When she finds an injured stranger on the road home, she is shocked to discover it is an XY - a boy. When she saves his life and takes him back to her community, it will forever change her life and how she views her world.
The XY instantly caught my attention with its intriguing summary. A world where men have disappeared, a world where gender norms are switched or challenged. It wasn’t until much later, after requesting a review copy, that I realised this book has already generated a fair amount of buzz and criticism, having already been published by a different publisher under a different name. I do not know if the text has been dramatically altered between the editions or not, but for clarity, my review is of the 2018 Sourcebooks Fire publication.
I was impressed with the writing style and the overall effect of the novel. It’s clever, thought-provoking and undoubtedly going to create a stir. When I mentioned this title to my high-school book club members, I was instantly met with delight from the girls and outrage from the boys. But I do not, personally, think this book is about man hate. Nor do I think it is trying to say that women are better than men. The cause of the reduced crime and complete restructuring of the world is not because it is run by women as such but more because of the massive event that led to women running the world. Image the death of half the population. If that happened today that would be a loss of 3.8 billion people. That would be a massive, hugely horrific and traumatic event, and that’s exactly how it is portrayed in The XY. Things changed not because men are bad, women are good and the death and segregation of the former led to the freedom of the later, but because things had to change and with change came the opportunity to start afresh. To enact new, fairer ways of governing. To create an international set of agreements that value life and truth. To protect the environment. Perhaps the world wouldn’t be a peaceful as it is in River’s world - but I’d like to think that men or women would try to make the world a better place. Perhaps, if removed from the world and segregated from women, men wouldn’t remain in an army-style, video-gaming, woman-hating lifestyle. Again, Bergin makes it clear that this is just one section of the male population, and that perhaps other sections were raised differently (then again, you just have to look to some of our leaders today and it becomes totally plausible). But for the purposes of the story, it provides the necessary what if question - What if women created a new world, a new way of living without fear and restrictions and what if men continued to live with the same overall mindsets of today’s world.
The trauma of the death of the male population is remembered by the grandmummas, but a boy is a new and very strange thing to River and others of her generation. I love River’s voice and the first person narration that allows the reader to be fully immersed in her world and thoughts. She very funny, and I loved her fire, indignation, confusion and compassion. There were so many times I laughed - out loud, snort-laughter - at something she or her great-grandmother Kate, said. She loathes Mason and the troubles he has brought to her world.
Aside from a dear relationship between River and her friend Plat, there is no romance in this story. There is also little action. Instead, introspection, humour and quiet reform are the strengths of this book. It doesn’t delve too deeply into the world outside River’s sphere, doesn’t explore all facets of the new society. Make what you will of the world Bergin has created. Maybe you would have written it differently, maybe you think a world without men or a sanctuary removed from any female input would be quite different, but it any case, I found The XY to be a thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable novel.
The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.
Find more reviews, reading age guides, content advisory, and recommendations on my blog Madison's Library
"They said that," he murmured. "They said you was lost without us." "We are not lost," she said, calmly. "We are running the world."
Welcome to the Matriarchy - it's 60 years into the future, and women run the world.
From the Little Ones to the Teens, the Mummas and Grandmummas - there are only women. Men have been, for the most part, wiped out by a virus that women are immune to.
You can imagine 14 year old River's surprise, then, when she comes across a boy, Mason, in the woods. Who is he and how did he get there? Plus, what will this mean for society?
It's an interesting concept, and there are some really interesting moments - a discussion on what Mason's expectations are when it comes to women, in particular, rings very true. I think that Mason's idea of women could be very similar to a lot of 14 year old boys due to the portrayal of women in media - they have to be hair-free, they have to be pretty, they have to wear nice clothes, behave in a certain way.
One thing I really liked about the book was that there were no real physical descriptions given of the female characters. YA can be all about the "intense green eyes" sometimes so it was really refreshing that we were left to make up our own minds about appearances. As with Virginia's other books, there are some great witty moments - can you imagine a group of 75 year olds all sitting round singing a chart-topper from 2016? I also liked how it didn't automatically descend into insta-love.
Other parts of it didn't make sense to me (the real involvement of the women with the camps) and I would really have liked a little more information about Mason and who he was, I felt that the book wrapped up a little too quickly there.
An interesting read that raises interesting questions and maybe would be a good way for teenagers of both sexes to get a little introduction to gender, sexism, the patriarchy and misogyny.
Thanks to the publisher for providing an ARC via NetGalley. *Quotes subject to change before release date
"For anyone who’s thinking about keeping a boy, my advice would be: don’t. Having a boy in your house is no fun at all. In fact, it’s the opposite of fun. Please note: I am saying “boy” instead of “XY” or “it” or “thing” or “creature.” I am even trying to think it. I am making an effort. It is not easy."
Pffffffffffffft! This top tier "so bad it's good" material right here!
My sister originally picked this up at a Barnes & Noble sale and thought the premise was funny so I bought it. 🤷 And let me tell you, I'm so glad I bought this book. The premise is just as ridiculous as it sounds and so is the plot. Some of the scenes had me rolling so hard I almost pissed myself. Horses are called "My Little Ponies", the boy in the story is called "It" for half the book, and the gender exaggeration is on point. Pretty much this whole book is intentionally exaggerated to the 1000th degree and it was great!
Don't get me wrong this book was really bad, but this is the first book I've enjoyed reading in a long ass time so I'm giving is a solid three star for the laughs.
ℹ Disclosure: *This review contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission. All proceeds will be donated to a non-profit animal shelter at the end of the year. Thanks. :)
Before reading thoughts 🤔
My sister picked this book up at Barnes & Noble last year during a sale and the premise sounds so ridiculous I absolutely had to buy it.
Honestly this book wasn't as bad as some reviews have made out and No, she doesn't find him naked in the woods then is suddenly in an airplane hanger, he's fully dressed and it's definitely over half way into the book before she even goes to the hanger and it's mentioned SEVERAL times WHY she goes and why it's there.
This book is this year's Tiptree Award winner, and I was excited to read it.
In the end, I thought it was good enough. The main character's voice is excellent, and the post-apocalyptic worldbuilding is captivating. About two generations before the book begins, a virus kills almost all men and boys, and the remaining men and boys are put into "sanctuaries," where they can be protected from the virus and also produce sperm to keep the human race alive.
The world is, therefore, all female, and has come to a set of seven "global agreements" which lead to a relatively peaceful, safe, and slowly rebuilding world. Into this near-utopia, teenage River encounters an escaped boy on a road near her village, and everything she has ever known or believed is thrown into question.
The book is certainly not an ordinary gender-essentialist "women make utopias and men make war" story--and if it were, it could never have won the Tiptree Award. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it while I was reading it but the minute I put it down I started having doubts about the limted ways men and boys are portrayed, and the validity of the storytelling.
It's a quick and easy (if sometimes painful) read, and I'm not sorry I read it, but there are far better treatments of similar topics.
The XY So for starters I would like to say that if men and women are separated their would be extinction. Men and men cant reproduce just as women and women cant reproduce. So that was the first thing i was a bit confused on going into it and starting it.
So I think that if all boys were extinct we should have seen more of just the women but instead right away found a boy in the road and found that there were more boys right away.
I read H2O a long time ago and remebered liking it so I thought this has an awesome cover and I need it on my shelf I should give it a shot. It was slow going and the characters and writing were strange and i felt disconnected with everything.
You know, I'm not even mad at this book as much as I'm mad at myself for spending an entire morning reading it. It wasn't even bad enough to be entertaining, mostly just really boring and poorly written. There were some interesting ideas buried under all the dullness, which I honestly did not expect going in, but not enough to redeem it. It was slightly less offensive than I'd anticipated, which is the highest praise I can give to this book. Okay NOW I think I'll try to stop hate-reading things.
I'm a little baffled by all the hate this book is getting. I've had that reaction to other books---Sheri Tepper's "The Gate to Women's Country" is a classic of man-hating pseudo feminism that made me furious. But I don't see it here. People do know that the narrator and the author are two different people, right? River's reflexive fear and hostility towards Mason signify a failure on the part of her society and of her character and by the end of the book she's decided to push back against both her personal prejudices and her society's failures.
This was a pleasant surprise! At first I was a little turned off by the style of the writing - it's told via first person protagonist narration, and at times you're overwhelmed by River's thoughts and fears. However, it quickly grew on me, possibly because it's so earnest and genuine.
The premise of this book was fascinating and original: 60 years ago a genetic virus wiped out most men on earth. The surviving men and any male children that are born are raised on reservations as a type of bubble environment to keep them from contracting the virus. As a result, men are kind of a legend, and society moves on without them. Within 6 years of this event, all of earth's nations are at peace and the entire planet is run as a regional matriarchal oligarchy, and a damned successful one too. War, hunger, rape and poverty no longer exist, and violence of any kind is extremely rare and usually minimal (people still occasionally trade punches but that seems to be the extent of it). Gender roles are extinct, and the very idea of gender itself is not even comprehensible to most people, since no one except the oldest "Grandmummas" have ever even seen a male before.
It was just wild to read about and imagine this kind of a world. The characters are fascinating and all have tangible emotions, not a single character felt flat, not even people who were only mentioned briefly. River particularly is a steadfast and mostly stoic young woman and this frightening situation she finds herself in gives us an inside view to her struggle with terror and confusion when she encounters a living male. Her entire family then has to come to grips with what his presence in their world means (namely, his survival). Each of them has to overcome their prejudices against this boy, just because he is male - who in their perspectives are a lot like dangerous but mythical beings. Mason in turn has to deal with his fear of "Wimmins" who he has been conditioned to fear as oppressors for his entire life. It's an interesting and refreshing book, and I will definitely read more of Virginia Bergin in the future.
Big thanks to Sourcebooks, who sent ARCs to my office.
This has good foundations to be something good, in fact I thought the end may have been able to redeem itself a little, but it fell short. I feel like the story was building up to something great, I kept thinking that little bits of detail, that I thought were important, might come together, but the ending was very displeasing, I feel like there was no proper resolution to the story.
This book is an atrocity for many different reasons, I can't believe it even got published... apart from being blatantly sexist and ill-conceived, it's also terribly written and poorly characterised. Just... don't bother with it. There's better books on the subject.
I loved the concept, but the execution of this book was shoddy. The weird formatting, the occasionally unclear narration, and the confusing plot didn't cancel each other out to make a decent book. I would not recommend this book to somebody unless they had a notepad and a lot of time, in order to keep the story straight.
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.
*Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*
The concept of this book intrigued me right from the start. A world without men? What would that look like?
I genuinely wanted to know. I wanted to see how Virginia Bergin thought the world would look without men. By erasing a gender, people are claiming this book explores gender neutrality and whatnot, but really…I don’t get it? At all. This book is not feminist for erasing men and therefore erasing gender differences. It doesn’t work that way. Feminism is equality no matter the difference/the diversity in people. And it certainly doesn’t help when half the book is slating men. Pitting the genders against each other. That is just a no from me, thank you.
And I was somewhat disappointed by the fact you don’t actually find out all that much about how the world works. You’re shown the “rules”, but you only see how they affect this one town. How did the erasure of men stop war? I know armies tend to be male based but I’m sure women would still find things to feud about, men or no. “The ecological needs of the planet are always put first”. Do these things not just enhance the stereotype that women are calmer, delicate beings with no sense of violence, anger, or any strong emotion? That war just vanishes entirely because men aren’t around seems a bit far fetched to me, and I wanted an explanation. But I didn’t get one. Tough luck to me.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad book. I enjoyed it enough to whizz through most of it in a day. It was an easy read, being told from the perspective of a 14 year old girl.
But for me it was just…lacking.
Lacking what, I don’t know. There was just nothing to get me riled up while reading. The plot jumped around everywhere and seemed almost rushed towards the end with how drastically everything turned. I found myself wondering about smaller things, like “why do some of the girls have bizarre names like River? Is that what would happen if the world was run by women? People named after the environment?” and “Why does the synopsis say River thought boys were extinct when she clearly knows women have to get babies somehow?” I just think that if this book had a lot more detail about the way things were run and the effects of the male gender dying out, I’d have found it a lot more entertaining. In this, it just felt like an out of proportion drama was going on when there happened to be no men around.
This review is a real slating, considering I didn’t actually mind reading it. But see, there’s a difference between “not minding” and “enjoying thoroughly”, isn’t there? In my video wrap up, I originally rated this 3 stars. A week later – writing this review – I’ve docked it half a star, simply because I can already tell this book won’t exactly be memorable for me. So, half marks, I’m afraid.