I had a bit of a mixed reaction to One of the Boys, by Jayne Cowie. The world building is compelling, with a society shaped by a genetic test that identifies which men and boys have the propensity for violence. Neighborhoods and organizations keep their communities safe by only accepting those who’ve tested negative for the M gene. Men who test positive are on the outskirts of society.
I had a bit of a Team Nobody feeling in this book, where I found basically everyone (realistically) annoying. Sisters Antonia and Bea each have a son, and each mother is determined to raise him as best she can. Antonia has had her son tested for the M gene, and his results show he’s non-violent. She’s annoying about this the way people often are about their good fortune, obviously she feels badly for those unfortunate M-tendency boys and men, but aren’t we all just so much safer without them in society? Bea, though, doesn’t want her son to be tested and put into a box. She’s annoying about this too, it’s a weird refusal to get out of her own way and make her son’s life any easier. As the two boys get older, though, the stakes get higher, and Bea won’t be able t keep her son’s M status unknown forever.
It’s the world-building that shines, because I could absolutely imagine this world where daycares and prep schools accept only guaranteed M-negative children, to keep their students safe, of course. This leaves the boys with the genetic tendency to violence (or no test at all) in substandard education, exacerbating the divide even more in totally believable ways. There are different proposals about what can be done for M-positive boys and men, discussions of how they could be helped. It’s an engaging, intriguing world, and I think having these realistic eye-rolls at some (most?) of the main characters helped ground it even more.
The ending of One of the Boys is somehow a surprise to the characters, although it’s been made super obvious to the readers from the very start of the novel, which creates a weird lack of tension. I felt like I was waiting for the characters to cop on to what’s so obviously true, instead of waiting for the reveal. I guess the author is TOO good at foreshadowing and hints? The dual “shock” at the end had been hinted at from the very start of the book, and it was basically the only way I could imagine these characters resolving. Still, the world building is very interesting, worth a read for the visit to this alternate future, even if there’s not really plot tension.