Guest Review: Y Negative by Kelly Haworth

In the last surviving cities of a ruined world, the concept of “woman” has been forgotten to history. Those unfortunate enough to lack a Y chromosome live as second-class citizens in a world dominated by mascs.

Ember is Y negative. He is scorned, bullied, abused by every masc he encounters, at work and at the gym. Not even his Y negative roommate cuts him any slack. He wants so desperately to be accepted as a masc that he’d rather buy black market testosterone than food. Something’s gotta give—he needs a change in his life, but has no idea how to find it.

Jess is a masc with a passion for studying the recovery of their devastated world. His boyfriend is pressuring him for more commitment, and his father expects him to take over the family business. He can’t wait to get away from civilization for his seasonal research out in the wild.

When Jess offers Ember a job, their lives collide in the isolated wasteland, and their initial attraction turns into a relationship that horrifies those around them. Soon their struggle to stay together and to be who they are turns into a fight for their lives.

Guest Reviewer:  Sheziss

This book.

Is special.

In so many ways. Man, this really rocked my world for a few days. I read it slowly because I was studying very hard for the exams but I couldn't put it down when it was (more than) time to go to sleep. The cover doesn't do it justice, this tale is more than a story or two. It's about Ember and the world he lives in. A world divided by genetics, full of dangers and disdain from the mascs towards the Y negatives, the lowest of the food chain. In between we have the andros, Y negatives who have already served the purpose of continuing the species with their bodies. They inject testosterone in order to fit into society and look more “normal”. But it’s a society they will never fully belong to. It's a battle lost before they even begin it. They will always be disregarded and considered less than human. They will always be used and pushed aside. Mascs will never consider them equals and even less bond with them.

The world is so well built it felt like a movie. I related it to Blade Runner, with bodily paints with flavor as a plus but with the same look-where-are-you-stepping-on feeling. Ember doesn't dream of electric sheep. He dreams of becoming a masc and being close to one. An impossible aim. He has desires he is afraid to acknowledge out loud but that doesn’t stop him from dreaming. Because he knows there is no hope to fulfill them. But still, he goes on, he works out in the gym and struggles to earn his next testosterone doses rather than eating real food. Misery in the whole sense of the word. Because when Tuesdays come, he feels like a man, although this feeling is not enduring. I could feel his loneliness as a stone, his emptiness and his longings sharp like a knife. He indeed left a mark on me.

Despite this, life goes on, and we get glimpses of what being an andro implies, how they barely have a decent existence. How they get by with the constant abuse and the reminder that they will never be enough for the rest of the world. The author managed to slap me in the face once and again, moving me in ways I never expected her to. I wanted so badly for things to change, as much as Ember does. And they do. Suddenly there is a masc, Jess, at his door, offering him a job for several weeks. A job that takes him away from everything he has ever known, alone with 4 mascs with no way to escape. Sounds like the best plan. He clutches the straw and agrees.

The Outskirts are dangerous, and Law takes a whole different meaning out of the big cities where people manage to survive. But what is even more dangerous is the proximity he feels towards Jess, by each passing day. The atmosphere turns into something more intimate at this instance, more secluded, and more meaningful that everything they had ever experienced. It was beautiful to see their struggles, the conflicts and the sweet surrender to each other and to themselves.

I truly loved Jess but I think he wasn’t wholly developed as a character. Sometimes the author skipped parts of his personality and scenes that could have been so much more. We was such a faint-hearted guy I wanted to shake him up now and then. Still, I could see he had never been one to harm other people just for the sake of it, as other mascs do for fun or to fit a certain mold. But he has never been brave enough to break said mold and swim in the opposite direction. He is quiet and thoughtful, letting others take the reins and adapting to their wishes when the moment requires it. But when he meets Ember, he feels alive for the first time in his life, which fills him with confusión and doubts. He wants to get closer, but at the same time he knows shit will hit the fan the moment he makes a movement. Is Ember worthy of it all? Or is it better to keep blending and silencing his needs and resigning himself to what people have always expected of him?

I was truly enchanted with it all. The writing style drew me in with no effort at all. The environment is ugly but uncannily attractive at the same time. There is that special magic in the air, the certainty that something significant and beautiful will happen eventually. And it does. Along with the hopelessness, there are bright moments and wonderful insights of the MCs' minds. I wanted to dwell on it forever. The story covered me like a warm blanket, it's a feeling I don't usually have while I read post-apocalyptic books, but there was a familiar comfort here.

Yes, it's a bizarre story, that with the androgynous character and all that he has to go through. I think this is the first ambiguous MC I have ever read. The events and the characters' actions are not the ones I waited for. They just came, never following a certain scheme. The story just flowed and I just devoted myself in reading and reading. I love it when authors don't restrain their imagination and creativeness. Because even though after a while I realize nothing that occurs in this book is really original in the big scheme of things, I still felt I had never heard of them before.

No, it's not perfect. I must admit there were some moments which felt too strange for me. For instance: When Jess hides the death of his previous tech boy the year before. I mean, he said to his parents that he just said goodbye and disappeared? And Jess is fine with himself after that? I accept that Jess is afraid of losing his chance at studying what he has spent his life on, and that a human life doesn't have the importance it has nowadays. But still, it was too much for me he acted that way and has no moral conflicts with it afterwards. Apart from that I could find a scene or two that felt a little lacking because they left things unexplained and unsolved. But overall, I must say this is a pretty solid read that managed to take my mind elsewhere.

A review copy was provided via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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