Sunday Reading: The Boy I Am by K. L. Kettle – YA dystopian thriller that subverts traditional gender roles

Published in 2021, The Boy I Am is the debut novel from K. L. Kettle.

Before I give you my opinion, here’s the blurb on the back:

Jude is running out of time. Once a year, lucky young men in the House of Boys are auctioned to the female elite. But if Jude fails to be selected before he turns seventeen, a future deep underground in the mines awaits.
Yet ever since the death of his best friend at the hands of the all-powerful Chancellor, Jude has been desperate to escape the path set out for him. Finding himself entangled in a plot to assassinate the Chancellor, he finally has a chance to avenge his friend and win his freedom. But at what price?
A speculative YA thriller, tackling themes of traditional gender roles and power dynamics, for fans of Malorie Blackman, Louise O’Neill and THE POWER.

The cover is very reminiscent of The Power by Naomi Alderman, and as the blurb above suggests, The Boy I Am explores similar themes; namely, that in the future, the world is run by a matriarchal system.

In this novel, there has been some kind of catastrophic disaster that has left most of the world suffocated by toxic fumes and decimated the environment into desert. As a result, the surviving population lives in a huge tower, run by a matriarchal society in which boys and men are treated as an inferior sub-species, who aren’t even allowed to look at women.

As a thriller this works really well, with plenty of twists and turns; we follow Jude as he tries to uncover the secrets behind the matriarchal system, which he hopes to escape from, and is never quite sure who is on his side.

This cinematic book trailer effectively conveys the mood and tone of the book:

Although set in the future, the issues explored here echo themes in our own world: oppression, control, tradition, humiliation, gender bias, elitism, heredity wealth, dictatorship, democracy, literacy, freedom and self-worth.

Yes, there are traces of Margaret Atwood and Malorie Blackman, but that only adds to the rich texture of the world that Kettle has created.

Powerful, fast-paced stuff.


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