23 June, 2020

[Review] The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

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Cover image from the goodreads website.

Series: Stand Alone
Release Date: 9 October, 2019
Publisher: Macmillan Audio/Wednesday Publishing
Genre: Young Adult Fiction/Dystopian Fiction/Girls & Women Fiction/Fantasy Romance/Thiller
ISBN: 9781250623225
Edition: Audiobook/Hardback (also available on Kindle)
Rating: ★
Review Written: 12 June, 2020
Summary: A speculative thriller in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Power. Optioned by Universal and Elizabeth Banks to be a major motion picture! 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 16th 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 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 their fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other. With sharp prose and gritty realism, The Grace Year examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between.

See more by Kim Liggett at her Website.
I have to admit that I went into this book with high hopes. The premise sounded promising and the fact that it was advertised as a cross between The Hunger Games and The Handmaiden's Tale. I was sadly, disappointed.

We are introduced to the community in which Tierney (which why is your child named with a play on Tyranny in the first place) lives with her own ideals of "all the other girls are looking forward to being picked to be married while she wants to avoid that and work in the fields". Having been treated like the son her father never had, Tierney's enjoyed a certain amount of "freedoms" not awarded to other girls in the community, all of whom are considered property of their father's until marriage at 17 after a "Grace Year". The Grace Year places the girls in a wilderness camp alone for an entire year both to act as a measure of culling the herd (as statistically the County sees more births of girls than boys, as apparent in Tierney's year when there are 30+ girls to roughly 15 available men) and to allow the girls to "release their magic" as all women are evil due to Eve's original sin.

Yeah, we went there. This is a thinly veiled religious dystopian setting, bringing in elements of The Handmaid's Tale while trying to continue to spark hope for revolution. Out of all 33 girls in Tierney's year, only she has any kind of clue how to survive out in the woods. She's also the social pariah for her years of refusing to spend time with any girls in her year beyond Gertie, a girl who had been punished years before for kissing Kiersten, another girl in the year. An added threat to the girls are the "poachers", men who are banished to the county's outskirts, and who hunt the girls who get too close to the forest. Upon catching a girl, they will kill and cut them apart to sell for potions and fertility treatments within the county.

For much of her Grace Year, Tierney is driven out of the encampment of girls, partly for refusing to embrace her magic, and partly from issues deriving with her and Kiersten. Once alone, Tierney makes camp near a dead girl's remains (long dead, literally only bones and the red ribbon from the grace year left.) This however doesn't last as she ends up returning to camp and almost getting killed by the girls. She narrowly escapes by crawling through a hole in the fence. In this instance, she almost commits suicide, however she is rescued by a Poacher who owed her father a debt for healing his friend the year before. Tierney ends up spending her entire winter with this poacher, and ends up 'falling in love' with him. She plans to run away with him, but after being discovered by another poacher, she's forced to return to the girls. For a time after her return, it seems like she might have failed to return in time to prevent the poacher from hunting her, however it turns out to be a rogue guard who had murdered the girl in the woods due to her rejection of him after he was castrated for her.

In the end, Tierney and the 14 other remaining girls return to the County to be wed, where Tierney reveals herself to be 3 months with child. It's only by the grace of her husband Michael that she lives and returns into the society, though shunned. He claims the child as his own in the end, though the book ends with Tierney in labor seeing the ghost of her dead lover. It ends in a frustrating cliffhanger of whether she lived or died.

I was highly disappointed in this book first by the narration of the audio edition. The narrator, while surely a lovely person, simply was grating with Tierney's words and thoughts, and I found myself cringing almost every 5 minutes. I struggled for months to get through the audio but finally I had to turn to the book to finish. Overall, I was looking for a larger spark of revolution, not something that would be a slow-burn. The most frustrating part for me was the lack of inaction and change on the part of the County at large, and the lack of any clear ending.

Overall, if you want something that provides a good punch to the guts for what you've read, and might end with a more satisfying feeling of everything seeming to have been righted, steer clear of The Grace Year.

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