‘The Only Boy’ – Jordan Locke
Mary is stuck in Section One, living with three hundred women in a crumbling hospital. She wonders what life was like two centuries ago, before the Cleansing wiped out all the men. But the rules—the Matriarch’s senseless rules—prevent her from exploring the vacant city to find out.
Taylor’s got a dangerous secret: he’s a boy. His compound’s been destroyed, and he’s been relocated to Section One. Living under the Matriarch means giving up possessions, eating canned food and avoiding all physical contact. Baggy clothes hide his flat chest and skinny legs, but if anyone discovers what lies beneath, he’ll be exiled. Maybe even executed.
Mary’s never seen a boy—the Matriarch cut the pictures of men from the textbooks—and she doesn’t suspect Taylor’s secret. If she knew, she might understand the need to stop the girls from teasing him. If she knew, she might realize why she breaks the rules, just to be near him. Then again, she might be frightened to death of him.
Taylor should go. The Matriarch is watching his every move. But running means leaving Mary—and braving the land beyond the compound’s boundaries.
In this dystopian novel, readers are presented with a society that has been destroyed by a disease, wiping out all men. ‘The Only Boy’ is a relatively short novel and, as a result, Locke has the pace moving quickly. And in my opinion, it was this that made the read feel a little one-dimensional.
I very quickly found myself intrigued about how this dystopian society ran and how history had caused the total wipe-out of all men. Readers are given this in snapshots throughout the story and I think it would have been better if this background was given in more detail, early on in the story. As such, when I realised that Locke was not going to be forthcoming with this detail, I found myself getting a little frustrated with the plot .
In this sense, I found it quite difficult to connect with the characters because I did not know enough about their backgrounds. Don’t get me wrong, we find out about Mary and Taylor, what happened to their mothers, and the role they play in society. But I felt this was a little lacking and sometimes I found it difficult to understand a character’s motives.
Mary and Taylor are cleverly portrayed to be opposites in their viewpoint and Locke subtly presents this throughout the story. Their interpretation of different ways of living made me smirk a few times, such as eating freshly grown food versus tinned, and it just showed how different Mary and Taylor’s backgrounds are.
The plot yo-yous between different settings and this made me feel like the story was not progressing. There are numerous times of being captured and escaping and it didn’t feel like the characters were getting anywhere. I would have liked to learn more about the “Earthers” who live in the forest and how they grew to be their own clan because they appear to live such different lives to what Mary especially is used to.
Switching between Mary and Taylor’s viewpoint kept this plot refreshing and new, particularly as I found the story becoming a little repetitive after about half way through. I enjoyed reading about how each adapted to their new surroundings after being captured and how they dealt with the other’s death, (or so they thought). However, I was surprised that Taylor being the only boy was revealed so early on in the story; I was expecting this to be the driving force of events.
I think that this is a pretty average dystopian fiction to read and I confess I feel there are stronger novels out there. The ending was a little disappointing and I found I had even more questions than answers. That being said, it did match the quick pace of the rest of the story, so Locke retains this consistently. This is definitely an easy read to get into and one that gets you drawn in to the narrative quite quickly. If dystopian fiction is your thing then you may want to think twice before reading it as I believe there are far stronger books out there than ‘The Only Boy’.