Friday, June 14, 2019

Book Review: "The Grace Year" by Kim Liggett

Kim Liggett's upcoming novel The Grace Year feels like a mashup of The Handmaid's Tale and Lord of the Flies, with a little bit of The Hunger Games mixed in for good measure. Yet at the same time, it's an immensely unique and disturbing story all its own.

"They call us the weaker sex. It's pounded into us every Sunday in church, how everything's Eve's fault for not expelling her magic when she had the chance, but I still can't understand why the girls don't get a say. Sure, there are secret arrangements, whispers in the dark, but why must the boys get to decide everything? As far as I can tell, we all have hearts. We all have brains."

Girls are told that they are dangerous, that they possess the power to lead men into destructive temptation, much as Eve did to Adam. They are led to believe that they have "magic"—that their bodies give off a certain essence when they're on the cusp of their 16th birthday. So all of the 16-year-old girls are sent away for one year, their so-called "grace year," and they're expected to release their magic into the wilderness so they can return purified and ready for marriage if they've been selected, or ready for life as a laborer if not.

Tierney James has always lived her life caring little for convention, not listening to the commands of her mother or the insults of the other women and girls in the community. She's not interested in getting married, in being the property of a man—she looks forward to living a life working in the fields, spending time at one with nature. She's known by many as "Tierney the Terrible" for her wild ways, and no one expects her to be chosen for marriage anyway. But when she is chosen, she is uncertain that she wants that kind of life for herself, although refusing will have grave consequences for her and her family.

The girls are sent into the wilderness and left to fend for themselves. They must deal with the brutal elements, forage for their own food, and avoid the so-called "poachers" that lurk in the woods, who wait for one wrong step so they can kill a girl and sell her essence to the black market. But as the girls begin to form a society of sorts, Tierney realizes it's not the wilderness or the poachers that pose the biggest threat to their survival—it's each other.

"We hurt each other because it's the only way we're permitted to show our anger. When our choices are taken from us, the fire builds within. Sometimes I feel like we might burn down the world to cindery bits, with our love, our rage, and everything in between."

The Grace Year is at turns violent, disturbing, sad, defiant, sexy, romantic, and hopeful. It is a story of young women being made to believe they are dangerous yet deficient, that their only true worth will be recognized if they marry and have children, and that they need to destroy each other in order to secure a happy future for themselves and their families. It is also a story of how much men fear women and seek to control them to overcome those fears.

As outrageous as this story is on many fronts, there are definitely places in which the book is eerily prescient of what is happening in our society today. Liggett did a great job ratcheting up the tension in the book, and creating characters I found myself rooting for, as well as some I was definitely rooting against.

At times, I found the violence in the book to be really disturbing, and after a while, the cruelty of the girls' was very hard to read about. The violence may be a trigger for some, because at times it's fairly graphic. But even when I had difficulty with the book, there was something about the story that I couldn't turn away from.

Reading The Grace Year definitely got me thinking, and I'm certainly thankful that we're not in this kind of situation in our society today. This is one of those books that I won't be able to get out of my mind for a while.

NetGalley and Wednesday Books provided me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

This book will be published October 8, 2019.

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