Book: The Grace Year
Author: Kim Liggett
Reviewed by: Amelia Valasek, Library Manager
Who should read this: This is a YA title, but adults who enjoy dystopian fiction, feminist issues, or psychological horror would also enjoy. Although the book is written for a younger audience, it does contain violence and sex (though probably not anything worse that what you’d find in the Hunger Games). If you read YA in order to avoid violence and sex, this may not be the read for you.
Personal impression: The book started out a bit slow, and had some lagging in the middle, but it still managed to keep my attention until the end. Sometimes the “lessons” being conveyed were a bit on-the-nose, there were a few plot holes I couldn’t account for, and there were times I saw the “surprises” coming from a mile away. However, overall I thought the book was a fun and engaging read, and I cut it a bit of slack knowing it was written for a younger audience.
Review: Its not surprising that the opening epigraph of this book contains quotes from both A Handmaids Tale and The Lord of the Flies, as the novel borrows heavily from both of these literary predecessors. This isn’t to say that The Grace Year is derivative, so much as it takes the themes of these previous works and makes them more accessible for a younger audience. The book opens on Tierney James, a 16 year old girl living in a closed, agrarian and misogynistic society where women have virtually no freedoms. When girls in this community turn 16, they are sent away for their “Grace Year” where they live with other “grace year girls” in an isolated island encampment. The purpose of the Grace Year is to allow the girls to burn through all their dangerous womanly magic and come back cleansed and ready to live a life of servitude as wives or laborers. That is, if they survive.
The opening and closing sections of the book taking place in Tierney’s village, as well as the romantic interlude at the book’s midpoint, were competently written but not terribly engaging. They felt like exposition disguised as plot points, their only real purpose being to reveal information. The book really shines when it leaves behind the standard trappings of YA dystopian fiction and narrows the focus down to the girls at the encampment and their slow descent into madness. I felt like this book missed it’s calling and should have been a straight horror novel instead. These sections of the book had me gripped and I really wish there had been more of them.
I did appreciate the path the author took to conclude the book. Without spoiling the ending, I enjoyed the portrayal of a slow, but sustainable societal change rather than an out-and-out revolution instigated by teenagers (perhaps I’m not giving enough credit to teenagers in doubting their ability to spark revolutions?). The ending felt authentic and moving, even if it lacked the fireworks of some better known series like Hunger Games or the Insurgent series. Overall, the book was enjoyable, despite its flaws. A great read for a rainy weekend.