By Kim Liggett
I read this book in a day, it was so impossible to put down; and yet it took me a whole month to digest it, and figure out how to review. This might be one of the most powerful YA books I have ever read and my mind was (and remains) blown by the entire experience.
No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.
Girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.
Sixteen-year-old Tierney James dreams of a better life—a society that doesn’t pit friend against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting for their chance to grab one of the girls in order to make their fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.
With sharp prose and gritty realism, The Grace Year examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between.
This book had me shaking. Anger, frustration, injustice. It was horrifying in the same way as the Handmaid’s tale was, aggravating in the same way the Crucible was. Yet it was also beautiful, taking this intense oppression and capturing the beauty of small (and big) acts of resistance.
The city (or country?) where this novel takes place has a “The Village” sense to it. Isolated, the divide between people – and women – could not be more pronounced. If you are not married, you are nothing. You work, or you sell your body. There are only so many eligible young men, and they’ll pick their future wife and let the rest work out of sight. Subtle hints show that this city might exist isolated in the US we know today, or some dystopian version of it, which intensified the realism.
Every girl is sent to spend their sixteenth year away, isolate, for fear that their “magic” will destroy the community they have fought so hard to build. Girls live their lives with oppresive rules, dare their :”Magic” escape and hurt the community. Men fear them in this year, but want their power as well: any girl who escapes her confinement during her Grace year can be caught and her body parts sold for medical purposes. It’s a grotesque and terrifying prospect.
We follow a girl who would be quite content working the fields, who is crash and bold and can’t stand the oppresive nature of her village. She loves to tinker, loves science and logic (a girl after my own heart) and doesn’t give into the oppressive system. While sometimes this borderlines on a “not like other girls” trope, it made me wonder just how many other girls were conceiling these feelings just to fit in. It was something that TO BEST THE BOYS touched on, but THE GRACE YEAR is more subtle, which I think really works.
The main core of the novel revolves around “The things we do to other girls”. How we’re raised to tear each other down, to stop us from banding together. Together, we are strong. Together, we’re terrifying. The only way to keep the girls meek is to force them to tear each other appart. And THE GRACE YEAR shows this in a violent, beautiful way. We tell ourselves that in a LORD OF THE FLIES situation, girls would prevail, but not if we’re raised to see every other girl as competition…
Nothing is expected: twists ruin everything, and not everyone is promised a happily ever after – even if they survive the violence. At first I found the ending anti-climactic, but the subtility of it was pure perfection.
Seriously. If you read one new book this year, try THE GRACE YEAR. It’s going to stay with me forever.
Expected publication: October 8th 2019 by Wednesday Books