Score: 89/100 (8.9 out of 10)
We read this book about a week ago and really had to wait to let it sit and simmer. We've come away with the recognition that When All Hope is Lost is an ingenious, clever, and very cynical book about many issues facing our society today.
Interestingly, despite the fact that most of this book takes place in Melbourne, Australia (one of our favorite places on the planet), it is applicable to people living in places like the United States and Europe—western nations arguably undergoing a socio-cultural and political upheaval with some even claiming they're heading the route of civil war. At the very least, there is a culture war between the Left and the Right.
What's very interesting about this book is that even though a matriarchy reigns supreme in it and you get some feminist vibes that appeal to Progressives and Leftists, people who lean the other direction could equally argue that the book has aspects that appeal to them too. It is very, very complicated, but let's try to unwrap this little by little. In a lot of ways, this book is written as a satire of current and recent events like the COVID-19 pandemic, race wars, and the Supreme Court's ruling on abortion rights. The author cleverly and cunningly does this by completely reversing the situation, putting MEN and BOYS in the shoes of WOMEN and MINORITIES who are frequently marginalized and have their rights taken away. Sorry for the all-caps, but we really needed to emphasize that point.
In this dystopian, apocalyptic vision of Australia's future, a virus in the late 2030s wiped out a large portion of the male population and continues to kill them shortly after the age of 18. Most of the book takes place between 2049 and 2069 in the aftermath of this catastrophic pandemic which left most of the population female. So, naturally, most of the power in government, business, and practically every institution is run by women in the world of this book. Furthermore, homosexuality has seemingly usurped heterosexuality as the norm with the majority of women turning to Lesbianism while men and boys are used only as “donors.” Men and boys are also exploited in this book where male suicide, infanticide/abortion of males, and a slave trade of vulnerable young males are as common and open secrets as McDonalds and Walmart. Furthermore, there are advocates for writing males (or at least their importance) out of the history books because they're seen as obsolete and unnecessary. It is actually quite haunting.
If we were going to compare this book to any work of fiction, it would actually be World War Z. The book is actually presented in much the same way as it was in that zombie apocalypse book, from multiple perspectives and somewhat in hindsight with multiple people talking about what came before. You follow the deputy premier, Monika Thomas, as she is conflicted between attending to her personal convictions about humanity and pressure from her party and the diabolical Evelyn Perkins—the Queen Maker—who wants to rid the world of males. Monika is placed into a position of great influence and authority after the mysterious assassination of Premier Anderson. There's also Patricia, a political journalist trying to get the scoop on both the assassination of the premier and the plan to eradicate boys (to supposedly free them from homelessness, joblessness, and exploitation). We also get the perspective of Dr. Bonnie Harris, a researcher dying to find a cure despite shocking and continued obstacles put in her way by the government who want to defund her and “move on.” On the side, we also get the perspective of a heterosexual couple in Karen and Josh.
This book has INCREDIBLE potential. It should absolutely have scored at least a 9.3 if only for two things: it is poorly edited and barely formatted. It was impossible to ignore that. It just did not look polished or finished at all. It is really unfortunate because the content is pretty much all there. However, there are instances when words like “premier” are spelled wrong. And all throughout this book, there are no indentations at the start of paragraphs or dialogue. There are also odd times when things are double-spaced while other sections are single-spaced. In the hands of a caring and thoughtful editor or proofreader, this book could really be a top-tier book. Also, as an side (not affecting the score at all), the cover definitely needs more work as it is low quality and doesn't nearly reflect what the book is about.
With that out of the way, the content of this book is actually incredible and compelling.
Check it out!