Author: Kim Liggett
Publisher: Wednesday Books
First Published: October 8, 2019
Genres: Dystopia, Feminist Fiction, Young Adult
Format: ARC, eBook
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.
The Grace Year has been one of my most anticipated books of the year and from the synopsis the perfect dystopian novel that I’ve been needing. The story follows Tierney James, a teenage girl coming into adulthood in a superstitious and patriarchal society. She is preparing for her grace year, a tradition in which all the girls of the town are sent into the woods to be rid of their “magic.”
“I say a silent prayer for each one of them. I know it’s against the law for women to pray in silence, but I’m the only God here.”
Now admittedly, I initially had mixed feelings about this book when I started reading. The start of the book is slow as Tierney establishes the world to the readers in what felt like a very stereotypical young adult dystopia, bringing several other novels to mind. I found myself hoping that this book wouldn’t turn into a “chosen one” savior story and I was rewarded for my patience. The Grace Year becomes quite the page-turner with a story that took directions I didn’t expect.
“The things we do to girls. Whether we put them on pedestals only to tear them down, or use them for parts and holes, we’re all complicit in this. But everything touches everything else, and I have to believe that some good will come out of all this destruction.”
The grace year girls are well written and memorable, and the madness that seeps into the camp as the girls come into their “magic” was genuinely terrifying, more so than the monsters and the poachers lurking in the woods. The more that Tierney discovered about her world, the more I found myself cursing at how cruel and sinister everything was. The power system in the novel is distressing in the way that it divides and breaks everyone.
The book was not without its faults, and Tierney was an extremely frustrating protagonist. She thinks the worst in others and acts brashly and aggressively in a poor attempt to create red herrings. Certain romantic aspects I found cheesy, underdeveloped, and unnecessary. As for Tierney’s character development and her state at the end of the book, it is questionable at best and felt sudden with no build-up.
“My eyes are wide open, and I see everything now.”
Overall I really enjoyed The Grace Year, it did not disappoint and will easily be one of my favorite books that I read this year. I liked that this book brought something original to the table and didn’t turn into an overnight feminist revolution, because in reality, that’s not how meaningful change happens. Tierney may not be the chosen one of every other young adult fantasy novel, but her story is the kind of story that we need about why it is important to stay united in the face of adversity.
Warnings: bullying, violence, sex