*I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and do not represent the publisher or author.*
EXPECTED PUBLICATION DATE: 19 SEPTEMBER, 2019
From just the blurb, The Grace Year sounded like nothing we hadn’t already seen many times before – it was marketed as being a mix of The Handmaid’s Tale and Lord of the Flies, and we all know dystopian feminist fiction is usually a big miss in the young adult genre. But, this book was a horrific (and very welcome) surprise. It managed to take a mixture of dystopian, feminist and YA tropes and weave them in such a way that I was completely engrossed in the protagonist’s story all the way to the end. This ended up being one of my favourite books in 2019 so far!
Our protagonist, Tierney, lives in a world where women are seen as dangerous beings, possessing magic that can lure and curse men. As a result of this, the women’s lives are tightly controlled – they can either become loyal wives or (if they’re not desired) work in the fields. They also, in their sixteenth year, are banished to a small, enclosed clearing – which is surrounded by Poachers ready to catch the girls and sell their ‘magical’ body parts – outside of their hometown so that they can release their deadly magic and return purified. This is called the Grace Year, and this is where it gets all Lord of the Flies. This story is about survival. Not surviving the men or the wilderness… But surviving the other women.
1) The Female Psyche
I cannot stress enough how well Liggett portrayed women in this book. They are terrifying, and so damn real. In the County, where Tierney lives, the patriarchal society has made every single woman a threat – they are willing to do whatever it takes to get the veil and be honoured with marriage, because not only will it better ensure their survival, but that’s what they’ve been raised to believe. The moment Tierney enters the enclosed camp at the start of the Grace Year, we see just how manipulative, sneaky and mean the other girls are – it’s a scaringly accurate portrayal of what some girls in high school can be like. But, it’s the ease with which these girls turn into gruesome, violent animals that makes this book so incredibly disturbing. Some truly horrific things happen in this book, and still, it somehow manages to feel uniquely female. Liggett has such an in-depth grasp on internalised sexism, mob mentality, the dangers of ignorance and the ramifications of generations of repressed anger, the Poachers who lurk in the background, waiting to capture and skin the girls alive, are nothing compared to the terrifying potential of the women.
2) The Characters
Though the story was told from Tierney’s POV, thus not allowing us a full glimpse inside each of the minds of the big cast of characters, each and every one of them managed to feel alive on the page and that was because they were unpredictable. It reached a point where I was stressing the hell out, reading as fast as I could, needing to know what happened next because I couldn’t work out which side the characters were on. Morality and sanity was a slippery slope in this book, and it was delightful. Tierney was also an interesting character to see the world through, because while she had hints of Katniss Everdeen, Jude Duarte, and other ‘strong female YA characters’, she didn’t feel over-the-top or like a Mary Sue – she remained naive and vulnerable enough to feel real. I think the biggest strength of her character was the way her thoughts were structured (very logical, yet intentionally contradictory) and the fact that she persisted and survived so many horrific things. Her arc towards the end of the book was so embedded into the plot, it was difficult to discern whether the character was driving the plot or the plot driving the character – in this instance, it really worked and added to the whirlwind of the overall book. Tierney is a difficult character to describe, so I guess to truly understand what I’m saying, you’ll just have to read the book!
3) I Found Myself Liking What I Usually Hate…
Yes, you read that right. Tropes that I usually feel very uncomfortable with (on a personal level) in dystopian, YA, feminist, or really any genre of fiction, actually worked in this book. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but I also need to explain my point, so I will say that these tropes have something to do with love, the possible consequences of love, and the fact that the character is sixteen years old. (Don’t try to think too hard on what it might be – just read the book!) The trope surprisingly works is because it fits into the world Liggett has created, it is an unexpected but understandable ending to the book and Tierney’s character arc, and everything leading up to the last two chapters was such a horrific whirlwind, it felt good to have some sort of hope. Speaking of hope…
4) The Ending
Obviously, I’m not going to spoil the ending, but I will say this – the ending is unique when compared to other dystopian YA books. The final scene was not a lame, cut-and-paste, “I can be happy now because I defeated evil” ending. It was profound and powerful because of everything the characters didn’t achieve (figurately and physically) and drove home the idea that you don’t have to be a hero and save the world in order to create change.
1) The Pacing
As much as I loved this book, it was not perfect. The overall pacing felt very fast – time seemed to slip away and certain scenes that were big for the overall plot or character development felt as though they were over in just a few sentences. I would have loved to spend more time in those big scenes, exploring certain character arcs and relationships, but I will admit that the fast pace kept me constantly on my feet. It upped the horror and made it an engrossing read because it never felt slow, but it did also make things feel a little shallow at times, which I can fear some readers may not enjoy.
I gave The Grace Year by Kim Liggett…
Yes! This book truly was a five-star read, and possibly my first for the year! You can read it for yourself when it comes out on September 19, 2019!