The Grace Year: Oppressive Horror

Five petals, perfectly formed, like they were made just for use. One petal for the grace year girls, one petal for the wives, one for the laborers, one for the women of the outskirts, and one for her.

I am so excited to talk about one of my most anticipated books of 2019! This one definitely did not disappoint. There’s a lot of death and condescension but let’s do it. Thank you Wednesday Books and Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

43263520The Grace Year

By Kim Liggett

Publish Date: October 8, 2019
Read Date: July 2019
Format: ebook galley
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia, Horror(?)
Page Count: 416 Pages
Rating: 4/5 Moose

Synopsis

In their sixteen year, the girls in Garner County gain the power to lure grown men from their beds, to drive women made with jealous. In order to keep them in their place, they’re sent out to live on an island in order to burn out all their magic.

Unfortunately for Tierney James, it is time for her Grace Year. And even more unfortunately, she can’t stop dreaming of a better life when dreams are strictly forbidden. Between the seasonal elements, the poachers out for the Grace Year girls’ blood and body parts, but also they need to fear each other.

Characters

Tierney James – the third daughter in the James family, who has reached her grace year. She wants to make it through alive and  start her life in the fields.

Gertrude – A girl who suffered being punished prior to their grace year. She becomes Tierney’s only friend.

Kiersten – Tierney’s cousin. The county believes Michael, Tierney’s best friend, will take her hand in marriage and become the leader of the community.

Rants, Raves, and Reviews

I adore Kim Liggett’s work. Ever since I met her at a panel in Books of Wonder, I have been excited to see what she’s writing. This book feels like her big break out book, and I am really excited to hopefully see her as someone more people I know recognize by name.

I also rarely talk about covers here, but this one is too gorgeously horrific to not talk about. The pink tones should make the book light and fluffy, but instead they’re giving off an air of something isn’t right. Add to it that red ribbon of the Grace Year Girl is dripping into blood….so good.

I am torn on how I feel about media being described as a “female Lord of the Flies. Libba Bray wrote a great book called Beauty Queens that I think tackles this concept in a more modern world very well. Are there still snarky girls? Sure. Is the entire group out to murder each other? No. However, does that mean I think that men are the ones that cause murderous rampages (hey I’ll be talking about Parkland soon, I’ll get more of those thoughts out soon)? Do women not have built up anger that would eventually cause them to explode? (At the very least, I think we can all agree that if there is a movie or TV show, it should be developed by women right?) Relationships between girls and women are incredibly complicated, and women and girls can be terrible to each other. While I am sick of seeing this done in media because it’s become so cliche, I really think this book handles that topic so well from beginning to the end. Not to spoil anything (which I try really hard to not do when I am reviewing) but I am guessing every single woman or girl that seems horrible has more depth than you realize.

I almost said “is a product of their environment” above, which…isn’t wrong. This book is being labeled a dystopia on Goodreads — I did as well — but we aren’t given any clues to whether this is a dystopia or just an alternate universe, or even a culture that existed in it’s own little slice of paradise hundreds of years ago. Or hell, a small society in the vast wooded areas today, a la The Village. Even by the end, we have no idea what it is, and that’s kind of amazing. The County is entirely low tech, and the people believe they’re essentially alone. Which is why it makes it so possible for the men to control the women as much as they do. It’s reminiscent of our witch burning days, but without giving women or girls any power. It is to the point that men can simply accuse their wives of witchcraft in order to get out of their marriages. Because you can’t just set a woman aside — she must die before you can remarry. So accuse, and she hangs. All that’s necessary is the word of a husband.

Yeah. It made me incredibly ill to read it too.

The book is broken up into seasons rather than chapters. It’s a little hard if you are someone who likes checkpoints in their reading (or more natural stopping points), but I think it works well here. The majority of the book takes place during our main character’s grace year, on a secluded island in the middle of the forest. Creepy enough for you? But wait — there is more! The island is primarily surrounded by a fence, with a little bit of space that is for the poachers. According to the community, only these girls can pass through that fence. If a man does, he risks being cursed by their magic, driven mad and needing to be killed almost immediately before it spreads to his family.

Okay. Isolated island? Check.
Men can’t get in, so no major risk of sexual assault? Check.

But what’s keeping the girls in? Oh, the fact that there are poachers waiting for them to step out of line, to leave the comfort of their cursed area. Poachers who are willing to slice the girls up slowly, because the more they scream, the more potent their organs are to be sold.

Oh, and the girls go onto the island knowing who has a marriage proposal waiting for them when or if they come back alive. And they don’t get to turn it down.

Still not enough horrific-ness for you? Fine. If you die during your grace year, and your body cannot be brought back at the end of the year, then all your younger sisters are cast out of the community to live on the sidelines.

So survive, or it isn’t just you who suffers.

(I am in some ways making this light because of how horrific this book is. And the movie rights have already been secured by Elizabeth Banks, so I am READY FOR THE TERRIFYING MOVIE.)

So the question is, do these girls really have magic? Is this oppression that they’re born into something to be expected? Or is it a lie that they choose to believe in because group mentality dictates they do or suffer the consequences? Obviously I am not going to spoil that. The “what’s real, what’s not” aspect is one of the best parts of the book. Tierney dreams — is this a magical power? — something we take for granted, something that is completely forbidden in this world. And I’m not talking about dreams like “aspirations” — dreams like nightmares and taking tests when you’ve never been to class. How do you oppress someone to the point that their subconsciousness responds?

Final Thoughts

Since I don’t want to spoil, I cannot talk about my favorite parts of this book. Liggett takes seemingly normal tropes — the Katniss trope, for example, and freshens it up. I love the ending of this book. If the horrific “who will survive their grace year” aspect doesn’t intrigue you, perhaps the discussion of the aftermath will. I doubt this book will have a sequel, but does a great job on implying the future the reader can expect.

Read this book. And if it is your first Kim Liggett book, go check out The Last Harvest or The Unfortunates too.

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