YA Review: Who Runs the World? by Virginia Bergin

The Premise: in a future where men have been basically wiped out by a virus, guess what? There’s no war, problems get solved by people talking to each other and everyone loves the environment. So teen River is fairly befuddled when she comes across what she initially doesn’t realise is a man; aren’t they all supposed to be kept safe in Sanctuaries, protected from a world which they can no longer survive?

Thoughts: I had such high hopes for this book; I’m really interested in novels about gender, especially in YA. Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours is a great example of how a dystopian novel can address gender in the YA genre. And Who Runs the World?, aside from its Beyonce-quoting title, sounds like it should be intriguing; reminiscent of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, a feminist utopia, the society of women presented in the book has so many interesting features, like the many references to the Granmummas, the only people who remember a world with men in it. The most interesting bits of the book, for me, were the short sections in which River explained what happened to make all the men die, and the drama surrounding it; attempted escapes, male babies being given away to hopefully save them – it had the potential to be a fascinating novel, presumably one which demonstrated exactly why we need both sexes.

As you can probably tell, it didn’t quite work for me. There are a couple of big problems which limited my enjoyment of the book. The first is the plodding structure; River finds the man, Mason, right at the beginning, takes him back to her village and then about two-thirds of the book consist of people talking about the fact that this has happened. Additionally, River’s narrative voice is a problem; she’s a teenager, and a teenager with a slightly limited education due to the whole effective-end-of-society thing, but, even so, the style of her narrative is annoyingly juvenile. SO MANY CAPITAL LETTERS! It’s just not necessary.

In Conclusion: clearly, I was disappointed here. Perhaps my hopes were too high, but there just wasn’t enough development of the parts that actually interested me. As always when reading something with a feminist context, I wanted it to be a YA The Handmaid’s Tale and it just wasn’t.

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