Monday, October 7, 2019

ARC Review: The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

Title: The Grace Year
Author: Kim Liggett
Publication Date: October 8, 2019
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Pages: 416
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No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.

Girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, 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 their 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. 

I stumbled upon The Grace Year in a happy accident at ALA over the summer. While I had seen it previously, the very pretty in pink cover made me think it was definitely not something I wanted to read. Luckily, someone went to a signing and let me read the synopsis and I RAN to the line to get a copy!

The Grace Year is not what you'd think based on the cover. This is a dark and terrifying story about a community controlled by its men and the terrible things the women endure. Every girl has a Grace Year. During this year they go together to a community in the wilderness surrounded by walls and are forced to survive with poachers waiting to pick them off, all while ridding themselves of magic. No one speaks of the Grace Year so no one knows what to expect, but every year the girls come back shells of their former selves or not at all.

Tierney is the main character of this story of her own Grace Year. She questions everything including the magic the girls supposedly have to purge from themselves. She has never wanted to be a wife and is an outcast among the others who have all had that goal from childhood. Once inside their new home in the wild, Tierney attempts to help the girls survive, only to be further ostracised and in fear for her life with poachers and maybe even ghosts all around.

I can't actually say much about this book without spoilers and that's one of my favorite things about it! I was absolutely not expecting this story to be as brutal as it was and I loved trying to figure out what was real and what wasn't alongside Tierney. There are so many layers to this story including some that were very unexpected.

The relationship between the girls was fascinating and often painful to read. Their relationship to the men was even more difficult. Even the men who thought they were doing what was best for the characters were only doing what they thought was best, rather than discussing with the women what would be best for them. Although this book does take things to the extreme, it's a great exploration of patriarchy and how women contribute and resist, terrifying in the same vein as The Handmaid's Tale.

Although I really did love this book, I did have some issues with it. I almost feel like this should have been a series as it does cover the events of an entire year and sometimes things felt rushed. I would have loved some of the relationships being explored a bit more. I also did not particularly care for the ending. It was a realistic ending, but wasn't as satisfying as I wanted it to be.

The Grace Year is an incredible read that's fast paced and will keep you on the edge of your seat. This book will definitely make you think and I found it to be incredibly empowering. I really wish more YA books about how strong women can be together had been around when I was a teen. Despite my minor qualms, this is a must read!