The second entry to her Plague Trilogy, After the Plague (originally title Come Lucky April) follows a young boy, Daniel, as he explores the wastelands in search of the diary of his great grandmother. This is his first time outside the safety of his village. April, a young girl who finds an injured Daniel in the wastelands, brings him back to her village where he is perceived as both a curiosity and a threat.
The society has pieced itself back together, using fragments of newspapers, books and other media to reinterpret the past. Unfortunately, as is evident in modern media, violence towards women, factual and fictional, is abundant, and this society is brought up on the belief that, based on these newspaper and book fragments, that the pre-plague civilization was abundant with rape and violence, and thus all the problems in the world, including the plague, are a direct result of men.
Men are believed to be incapable of controlling their violent and base urges, and are thus ritualistically castrated and are mentally conditioned to be subservient in all aspects. Men and women live in separate accommodation from each other and breeding is seen as a duty and chore. The male anatomy and the physical act of love is considered vile and disgusting.
It is never clear in the book how specifically this society breeds: it is implied it is through basic artificial insemination techniques. Another unanswered idea is that these people live in a homosexual society. The women have ‘mates’ that they share beds with and have emotionally intimate relationships with, but it is never stipulated if these relationships are phyiscal as well. It may be that this society is asexual and their relationships are merely homosocial – in which case this book becomes even more progressive by extending itself beyond straight or gay relationships and into relatively unvisited territories.
The anti-male rhetoric can come off pretty thick in this novel. This is okay, as this society is built on this ideology, but when Daniel from outside this society debates with women their different lifestyles, he fails to come up with any arguments to defend himself. Sadly, the best quip he can muster is to suggest that all the evils that befall women are because they failed to defend themselves adequately, or because they allowed men to make the decisions.
In what seems like a progressive book strong with feminist overtones, the decision to make Daniel blame women rather than defend men actually propagates both misogyny and misandry at the same time. A more balanced approach would have had Daniel defend the virtues of mankind while still acknowledging the blames of mankind, instead of pleading ignorance and blame shifting.
But these social justice issues were not as vocal or prevalent in the 1990’s, as social media had yet to take over the way the world functions and these issues were not discussed as widely. This makes the progressiveness of this book more important, within that context, as it would have created a talking point. Based on many opinions found online, it was a very polarizing and controversial book and achieved sparking the debate before it was trending online.
The characters are well written and a lot of young adult tropes are successfully avoided (like the plague), or re-examined in a different context. The story line itself is very basic and doesn’t offer a lot, but the enjoyment of this book is the ideas and ideologies and the character interrelationships.
A highly recommended book for both adults and teens.
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