Hannah Scribbles

Rev: “The Only Boy” (2013) Loses Rhythm in POV Transitions

In Books/Authors, Pop Culture! on May 8, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Writing itself is a practiced craft, and we only we expand our skills through trial, error and critique.  Still, stories are incredibly personal to the writer. It took me so long to write this post because, honestly, I hate giving negative reviews.  Few things in this world are worse than disliking a book, and one of them is receiving a negative feedback.  Criticism stings.

“The Only Boy” by Jordan Locke is a story that could have been good but never got the chance.  Set an indeterminate time after disease wipes out the world’s male population, it’s a strange place where doctors genetically create children but still rely on scavenged food rations to eat.

The novel follows two teens – Mary, a curious girl with authority issues, and Taylor, the lanky boy hiding in a world of women – as they defy authority and fall in love.

Except the romance doesn’t convince. Their relationship seems to stem from the idea that Taylor is a boy rather than from their chemistry. In fact, Mary and Taylor’s interactions lack depth.  They spend most of the book bickering, storming off and pining for each other rather than, you know, actually communicating.

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“Why do I love you?” “I don’t know. We literally just met.”

Some of the problem lies with the perspective and narrative structure.  One of the perks of writing in first person is that the author can get inside the characters’ heads, building world views and a depth of feeling necessary for the story.  Readers get access to character motives in a way third person doesn’t allow.

Proper use of first person is especially important if the plot is driven by a character’s interior motives or if the overall premise is weak.  “Divergent” by Veronica Roth is a memorable YA novel because Roth uses first person storytelling to capture Tris’s thoughts and character development, not because the overall premise makes sense.

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Locke wrote the novel in multiple first person, a tricky but manageable POV.  However, rather than using viewpoint to explore the main characters’ interior lives and motives over the course of events, Locke transitioned POV when tension within the scene built.  The effect throws Mary and Taylor into an unfortunate action-before-motive loop, making their decisions seem impulsive and childish (until the halfway point, I guessed their ages at 11-13 instead of 16-17).  Consequently, the reader has trouble following the story and a harder time suspending disbelief.

A plot revolving around deadly disease requires considerate world-building, which begs the question why I found myself halfway through the novel before learning important details such as the ages of the main characters.  As the facts continued to elude me, I was left without a clear understanding of the setting or history.  How does the disease work?  How long ago was the outbreak?  What are the Sections?  Where is the story set? And, seriously, why can they design children in tubes but not grow their own vegetables?

The actual impetus for overthrowing the Matriarch’s authority comes too late and too lightly for me to get on board.  Why would I justify a regime change because a couple rebellious teens disagreed with the rules, especially after I spent most of the book questioning their judgment and rash behavior?

Rating:  2 Stars

Favorite Character:  The old lady in the rocking chair

Top Reasons to Read:  It helps you understand first person narrative structure and scene transitions

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