'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 24 January 2020

Review: The Grace Year

A gap year with a difference!

This very dark, speculative fiction novel follows a year in the life of sixteen-year-old Tierney James. 

The tradition is for the sixteen-year-old women of the village to live in an isolated compound for a year, away from their families, ostensibly to wear out their dangerous women’s magic (the sort that makes the otherwise pious men do risky and sinful things – could the symbolism be any stronger?), in order to return home to settle into their duties as wives or unwed servants or labourers.

The tag line reads 'No one speaks of the Grace Year, it’s forbidden.'But the girls know that a sizeable portion of the young women fail to return and those who survive are often disfigured in ghastly ways.

Tierney has always been fiercely independent. As young women may get chosen to be wives in the lead-up to the Grace Year, she has made sure that no man would pick her, as she prefers the freedom of the unglamorous role as a labourer. But to her utter disgust, somebody has! 

Although Tierney is baffled, it is not difficult for the reader to work out who her suitor was.

The cohort of young women need to survive in a fort, surrounded by poachers in the woods who want nothing better than to harvest their organs – which will then be resold to the village as black market magical remedies. So it is in their interests to cooperate and not get kicked out. This book reads like a cross between The Hunger Games and The Lord of the Flies.

Tierney tries to be the voice of reason and to organise rations and a water supply. But doing so means that she questions the very existence of their magical powers – and quickly butts horns with the queen-bee girl. Tierney has to fight for her very right to remain within the walls of the fort.

Never one to accept her fate quietly, Tierney discovers some secrets and lies about not only the Grace Year, but about the beliefs and customs of their society. She rebels in a spectacular fashion, and in the process, reveals some confronting truths and encourages the girls to reject the lies told to them. The ending paves the way for a sequel. 

With its strongly feminist themes, this was the sort of book I had expected to enjoy. Instead, the recurring motif of men controlling every aspect of the women’s lives and valuing their bodies more than the individual person, was heavy handed. The ‘ick’ factor was upped to the max, and some of the gruesome deaths had the effect of distancing me emotionally from the action, rather than engaging me.

Nevertheless, an interesting concept.

Title: The Grace Year
Author: Kim Liggett
Publisher: Penguin, $32.99
Publication Date:  19 September, 2019
Format: Paperback
ISBN:  9781529100594
For ages: 14+
Type: Young Adult Fiction