YA Dystopia: The Grace Year

The Fiction Addiction

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The Grace Year(cover art from the publisher)

The Grace Year, by Kim Liggett, describes a dark future where girls are sent away from the county for their sixteenth year. Some come back with scars, while others don’t come back at all, and no one can ever mention anything about this Grace Year.

The beginning has a real Hunger Games feeling, where a special day in the dystopian future society is used to establish the world. Instead of reaping day in District 12, this is veiling day in the county, the day some of the teenage girls are chosen as wives, before leaving for their unspeakable Grace Year in the wilderness.

There’s a Handmaid’s Tale feel in The Grace Year, too, since life in the county is all about keeping women pure and keeping men away from their dangerous, sneaky powers, all with heavy Christian influence. Women only need a man’s accusation to be found guilty of basically anything, and punishments are brutal and public.  Later, it gets even more like the stories of witch trials. The teenage girls are ostensibly sent away to purge themselves of the dangerous magic that erupts in young womanhood, so a lot of the Grace Year is spent screaming and blaming each other about what is real and what is magic. The girls worry that their magic won’t come in on time or be fully purged on time, especially since any later accusation of still having magic will mean death.

When the girls arrive at the Grace Year’s site, they find a smoldering heap of whatever supplies the last year’s group had left over and whatever the last group made for themselves. It’s traditional to destroy everything before leaving, because why give anyone else advantages you didn’t have for yourself? They see the Punishment Tree with chopped-off braids and even gristlier trophies, and immediately begin policing each other.

This was the heart of the book to me: This idea that the girls exist in a system but… they don’t have to participate. They could cooperate a little, even within the bounds of the Grace Year isolation, and make things just a little bit less grim.  The girls are fairly powerless, given to the men who choose them and then settling down to a life of housework and childbearing.  But they’re not the lowest in society — girls and women in the county can be banished to a life of prostitution on the outskirts, so the girls of the Grace Year always have someone to look down on and something to fear.

I enjoyed reading the majority of this book, but there were a lot of eyerolls over the main character. Tierney suffers from a nearly terminal case of YA Protagonist Syndrome.  She’s a rebellious independent girl, somehow immune to the norms of a society where all the other girls are preparing to be good wives. She’s the only girl who’s been taught any male things, so for most of the Grace Year, she knows how to do anything and everything, while the rest the girls are clueless. Tierney has one special male friend, who just happens to be the community leader’s son, and another special male friend, who just happens to be the guard of the girls. She is constantly Not Like Other Girls, and it works against what I thought the novel’s theme was, about cooperation. She also gets saved by men, a lot.

The pacing is completely off in this novel. Each chapter ends on a revelation/cliffhanger, usually with a couple short, dramatic sentences. But then it picks up again on the next page, often 5 minutes later in story time. It works a few times and then feels like a repetitive join-us-next-week.  There’s a certain period of the story, about a month or two in book-time, where the protag basically sleeps, checks her healing injuries, has massive revelations about her life/love/future/society, sleeps more, and does it again the next time. It’s weird that a story with such high stakes managed to have scenes that dragged.

Overall, I enjoyed discovering the dark, bleak specfic world in The Grace Year, but I also found plenty of eyerolls in this story.

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