There are very few books that I find physically challenging to read – in fact, I could probably count them all on one hand. To have such a physical and emotional reaction to a book is unusual for me, but The Grace Year really made me stop and think (and at times physically recoil from the book). However, while the book was phenomenal for the most part, there were certain aspects of the story that really defeated the message of the entire book that I could have done without.
SURVIVE THE YEAR.
No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.
In Garner County, girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to 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 a chance to grab one of the girls in order to make a fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.
From a writing quality standpoint this book was top notch – the world building was phenomenal. From page one I just wanted to dig deeper and deeper into the book to learn as much about this setting as possible. I especially valued the fact that the world was built throughout the book there was no clunky exposition to explain the world. Now, were some of the metaphors a little heavy-handed? Yes. But what they lacked in subtlety they delivered in plot. I was genuinely surprised by some of the twists that the book throughout – I did not expect it to be as well thought out and planned as it was. One other thing to note about this book was the pacing was a little odd – it jumped around in time a lot, which took some getting used to.
So, what was the fatal flaw that defeated the message of the book? Well first let’s dive into what the book really represented: this book was a piece of feminist literature that emphasized the importance of not tearing the women down and heavy-handedly taught the value of feminism in a bleak world. While that message was mostly well delivered upon, the fact that the main character had not one, but two romances really bugged me. One of these relationships was a case of instant love, which felt incredibly out of place and misused in this novel. The whole book is about this young woman coming into her own and in an incredibly difficult situation. Just as she’s struggling and surviving on her own, a man comes in and rescues her. This really just went against the theme of the book – I wouldn’t have minded if they were more of a partnership, but this was really just a damsel in distress situation. The second romance was less demeaning, but it still felt like it was retracting from the purpose of the book.
Character wise this book killed it. I felt for everybody who popped up on the page from the girls who died early, too the raging villains later in the book. Hell, even a guard who turned out to be a murderer I’ve felt for in some way. I also really appreciated it they weren’t all holding hands and singing kumbaya. I’ve already said how I feel about the romances in the book, so I won’t focus on those characters, but I really did like the lead character Tierney. She was feisty in an oppressive society and she knew exactly what she wanted out of life. Her family was just as great I really love the twist with one of her family members (but I won’t spoil it for you).
While this book wasn’t perfect, it certainly did set a standard for young adult dystopian feminist fiction. It definitely harkens from the same area as The Handmaid’s Tale and perhaps a bit of The Hunger Games. This is a worthwhile read for anybody who’s looking for another book after finishing The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments, or someone who’s looking to test the waters in feminist fiction. The Grace Year was emotional, dark comma and twisted with great writing quality and only minor plot issues. 4/5