The Only Boy by Jordan Locke
Publication date: December 17th 2013
Genres: Dystopia, Young Adult
Mary is stuck in Section One, living with three hundred women in a crumbling hospital. She wonders what life was like two centuries ago, before the Cleansing wiped out all the men. But the rules—the Matriarch’s senseless rules—prevent her from exploring the vacant city to find out.
Taylor’s got a dangerous secret: he’s a boy. His compound’s been destroyed, and he’s been relocated to Section One. Living under the Matriarch means giving up possessions, eating canned food and avoiding all physical contact. Baggy clothes hide his flat chest and skinny legs, but if anyone discovers what lies beneath, he’ll be exiled. Maybe even executed.
Mary’s never seen a boy—the Matriarch cut the pictures of men from the textbooks—and she doesn’t suspect Taylor’s secret. If she knew, she might understand the need to stop the girls from teasing him. If she knew, she might realize why she breaks the rules, just to be near him. Then again, she might be frightened to death of him.
Taylor should go. The Matriarch is watching his every move. But running means leaving Mary—and braving the land beyond the compound’s boundaries.
Excerpt: From Taylor’s Point of View
The pit is dark and musty. Dirt walls line two sides, and bars surround the rest. Every so often, footsteps tap overhead, but other than that, silence.
No one told me how long I’ll be here. I think the rulebook says three weeks for fighting, but the Matriarch might have added destroying property. I touch my chin, and stubble prickles my fingers. Before long, the beard will be impossible to hide.
I should never have come to Section One. I could have run—disappeared—after the Earthers bombed my compound. Even when the Matriarch sent a carrier pigeon, I didn’t leave. I waited for someone to come. My hair was long, and I figured I could pass for a girl.
I should have realized it was a mistake.
I have no idea how long I’m here—maybe hours, maybe days—before a shaft of light shines across the room. Footsteps approach, hinges squeak, and metal slams shut. Someone is breathing in the cell next to mine. I imagine Katherine sitting inside. It could be weeks of only her and me. I’ll go insane. I crawl away, push my back against the cold wall.
A calm clear voice says, “Taylor?”
I let myself smile. It’s Mary.
Excerpt: From Mary’s Point of View
I hoped a new arrival—someone who hadn’t spent every day locked inside—might bring a sense of adventure, or at least have interesting stories. But Taylor doesn’t even want to talk to me. What a letdown.
After lunch, I go back to class. When I see who’s sitting at the desk next to mine, my face grows hot. It’s bad enough I have to suffer through another of the Matriarch’s lectures, but to have Taylor beside me the whole time, that’s going to be torture. I sit at my desk and face the front wall—painted black, with lines of chalk dust ground into the cracks.
Taylor speaks in a faint mumble. “Sorry.”
When I can no longer stop myself from looking, I turn my head. Taylor’s eyes catch mine. Blue eyes. Haunting eyes. I open my mouth to speak, to accept the apology, but can’t even breathe.
The Matriarch steps inside the room and flashes one of her fake smiles. “Taylor, would you come to the front of the class?”
The girls whisper as Taylor inches forward. Hanging above is an Emergency Room sign. A piece has broken off, and some of the letters have peeled away. Now, the sign reads EMERGE.
Excerpt: From Taylor’s Point of View
I place the biology textbook on a stainless-steel table, flip through the yellowing pages and stop on a cross-section of a woman. Her organs are carefully illustrated—heart, lungs, uterus. The next page is missing. Not ripped out. Cut, as if sliced with a surgeon’s scalpel.
The library at home has the complete book. I’ve seen the missing page—the anatomy of man. An extinct creature, as far as anyone knows.
A voice from behind says, “What are you reading?”
My shoulders tense when I turn to see Mary. None of the girls at home looked like her—dark eyes, perfectly straight nose and full, round lips. Her hair brushes my cheek as she leans over. She shouldn’t be so close. I ease the book shut and try to look calm.
“We studied biology last year,” she says. “Did your teacher go over it?”
In Section Seven, we self-studied, but she doesn’t need to know that. “No.” I carry the book to the shelf.
She follows. “You should read the part on genetics. It’s really interesting.”
I slip the book between a car manual and a medical dictionary. “I’ve read the whole thing.”
“But you said you hadn’t studied it yet.”
To avoid her gaze, I stare out the window at the abandoned skyscrapers and trash-covered barriers. “Don’t you have class or something?”
“We’re on lunch break.”
I growl. “Go eat.” My voice is too husky, too deep.
“I was tryin’ to be nice.” She turns to walk away.
I grab her wrist to stop her. Her skin is warm and smooth.
“What are you doing?” She wrenches her arm free. “You’re gonna end up in the pit.”
I step away, and she hurries toward the door, shoulders back and chin high. The loose-fitting hospital gown can’t hide the curve of her figure.
I want to touch her again.
Excerpt: From Mary’s Point of View
I stand on the roof, scanning the city. Many of the buildings are crumbling, from centuries of decay. Below me, trash from the hospital circles the compound, piled into a wall. A fuel tanker sits on one side of our water tower, a broken-down car on the other. In the distance lies the forest. I would love to wander through the trees, to search for whatever wildlife still lives, to see if I can find just one flower.
It isn’t the rules that stop me. It’s the Earthers—the women who live in the woods. I saw two of them, years ago, when I snuck out one day and wandered into the forest. A child’s voice echoed in the distance. I hid behind a bush and peered through the leaves. A woman and her daughter approached, wearing deerskin parkas, their skin darkened by the sun. I wondered, without men and without a genetics lab, how was the daughter created?
The girl heaved a spear at a tree, and it fell short of the trunk.
“You need to follow through,” the woman said. “And turn your hips.” She made a twisting motion. “Like this.”
“Why can’t we just eat vegetables?”
“Snow will come soon.” The woman picked up the spear. “The crops won’t last through winter.”
“I’m not gonna kill the animals,” the girl said.
“When you’re hungry enough, you will.” The woman turned my way, and I ducked. Their footsteps grew closer, their voices louder. They were within feet of the bush. I crouched. Leaves crunched under my knees. When the footsteps stopped, I ran. Before I got more than a few yards, my foot caught on a stick, and I fell. By the time I righted myself, the woman hovered over me, holding the tip of the spear to my chest.
The girl ran to the woman’s side. “Don’t kill her!”\
“Get back, Wren!” She moved the spear to my face, inches from my nose, and held a frightening scowl.
The girl pulled on her mother’s skirt. “You’re scaring her.”
The woman’s eyes never left me as she scooped up the girl. With the spear pointed at me, she backed away. Even though my hands were shaking and I could barely stand, I wanted to follow them into the forest.
About the Author
Jordan Locke lives in Connecticut with his wife, two lively daughters and a well-behaved whippet. A graphic designer by trade, his creativity spilled over into the literary world. After years of writing, reading and learning the craft, his fifth novel, The Only Boy, brought him offers of representation from two well-known agents. Now, after the dog is fed and the kids are in bed, you will find him tapping away at the keyboard.