“Y Negative” by Kelly Haworth

Time for another NetGalley read, this time Y Negative by Kelly Haworth, which is due to be released in November by Riptide Publishing. I feel like I can’t start a review of this book without first explaining the concept on which it’s based — there’s no way it’ll make sense otherwise.

y negative

Publication date: November 16th, 2015.

From the blurb, then: 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.

Basically: this is a book about gender things, even if not in a form we recognise. Rather than two distinct mainstream genders (male and female) with nonbinary folks as a baffling concept to most people, this world has four: Y negatives, andros, exins, and mascs. The main character is Ember. Formerly a Y negative (who are forced to act as surrogates for masc couples), he’s now on testosterone, making him an andro.

Don’t ask me to explain what exins are, though. I never entirely figured that one out.

I requested the book because of its approach to gender and sexuality — I’m always about that gender politics life. In a sense, Y Negative bears some similarity to a number of SF/F classics that explore these ideas. When I first became interested in them, I was directed towards Ursula K. Le Guin’s books, but didn’t get on brilliantly with them: I was confused more than interested in anything that was happening.

This, at least, was easier to read and to understand. It took me a little while to figure out what all the different terms meant (like I said, still not sure about ‘exin’), and as with any book where society is utterly different to ours, it can be a bit of a learning curve. For example, the use of he/him pronouns for all characters was odd to me at first, but to my surprise, didn’t actually interfere with my understanding of who was speaking or whatever.

I enjoyed reading a book that offers an alternative look at gender and society, especially how this presented the difficulties faced by trans people (testosterone and the prices; surgery; etc etc) within a fictional environment. That said, as a result of these ‘lesser’ gender identities or whatever, ‘het’ relationships become abnormal and repulsive, while same-gender relationships are the default. And that was weird to me.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE having queer characters in books, and I also like books that subvert the usual heteronormativity. But in this instance it kind of felt like the book was saying, “Oh, these poor straight people…” when they were actually only going through what queer people go through all the time.

BUT I think this is unfair of me, because Ember is an andro, and because of how things are generally portrayed within this society. Moreover, having learned that the author is genderfluid, I’m prepared to accept that my understanding isn’t necessarily the only way this storyline could be understood.

I’m not a big fan of romance, so I was much more about Ember understanding himself and his own identity rather than his relationship with Jess, even though I liked Jess (purely by virtue of him being less awful a person than most of the others). That and general gender things are what I found interesting, rather than the romance plot.

So yeah. Wasn’t hugely invested in THAT, but was very invested in Ember. My child. My tiny nerdy computery child. He deserves so much better…

Anyway. I enjoyed it on the whole, but wouldn’t count it as a favourite, because a few things bothered me.

Rating: ***

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