Trying to put into words how I feel about Preston L. Allen’s Every Boy Should Have a Man isn’t easy. I keep trying to avoid calling the book weird — as not to turn away potential readers — while still imparting the distinct oddness of this novel. I want to explain how unnerving the novel can be at times, while making sure that I don’t forgot to tell you that the book was also subtly funny and wickedly smart. Part science-fiction, part allegory, part fairy tale, and part scripture, Allen has created a work of fiction that isn’t easy to pin down. Allen deftly employs irony, playing with the reader’s perception of humanity and challenging the way we interact with the earth.
Every Boy Should Have a Man takes place in a world in which Oafs keep “mans” as both pets and as potential food. In this land, a poor boy Oaf owns three mans throughout his life; something that is typically only a privilege of the wealthy. Spanning the lifetime of the boy Oaf (and a short time following), the book examines what it means to be civilized through a lens of a long list of divisive subjects including war, racism, global warming, and the ethics of domesticating animals for pets and livestock. To say that the novel is unique is an understatement, but there is evidence of a wide range of influences from Jack and the Beanstalk and Gulliver’s Travels to Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood.