THE GRACE YEAR - by Kim Liggett

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Published: October 2019 - Wednesday Books.
Genres:  Young adult / dystopia. 
Pages: 416.
Triggers/Content Advisory: Gory descriptions / strong violence / sexual innuendos.
Format: eARC.
Source: Netgalley. I voluntarily read & reviewed this copy. All thoughts are my own.

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.

This is a mini review, so I'm keeping it short. While this book had so much potential, and drew me in with its Lord of the Flies meets The Handmaid's Tale pitching, the execution of the story fell flat. It was disappointing.

The writing is the novel's strongest point. Sometimes there's unnecessary telling that creates an emotional disconnect between the characters and the reader, but I'm more inclined to blame that on the sloppy character development. The writing, for its part, is solid. The author writes well.

The plot is strewn all over the place. The pacing is off; months whiz by in the space of a single sentence, and there are scenes I wish the author could've dwelt on. Scenes that need to be slow are too fast, and scenes that are too fast need to slow down. I wanted to invest in the story, but I never got the chance because the pacing threw me off. 

I'm fascinated by this dystopia world and I think it's a great premise. But the execution doesn't do the idea justice. Firstly, the characters start off way too progressive and rebellious; Tierney makes all these observations about the discrepancies between the sexes and how unfair and cruel it all is, but if she's been brought up that way then why is she so easy to question? If she doesn't know any better, why should she even idealise another way of living? Considering that Tierney's character begins the book by striving for equality and feeling outraged at the sexism around her, there's little chance for character development; she's already developed and grown. I wish the author had had Tierney gradually question her way of life and gradually realise the injustice of her world. It would have made for a stronger character arc.

Yes, the world is twisted and messed up and the women are treated appallingly. But...the author's response is preachy. She's not subtle, and often subtly makes for a more powerful message. In this case, the graphic descriptions and thoughtless brutality are unnecessarily expounded upon, and Tierney's response just sounds jarring and modern in its context.

The characters are flat. Tierney has no personality, and the rest of the characters are watered-down stereotypes. Kirsten is the mean girl, Michael is the love struck childhood friend, Ryder is the protective and mysterious forbidden love interest, and all the Grace Year girls are one-dimensional caricatures. No one is fleshed out. They're silhouettes in a dark, vague world, with only a name as their personality.  For a book that promised complicated female dynamics in a brutal world, this one is severely lacking. The female characters - not to mention the males - are hardly characterised.

The romance is pathetic. Never mind that it's borderline Stockholm Syndrome, but Ryder has no personality and his relationship with Tierney is insta-love. I didn't buy it for a second. The time jumps and poor pacing don't let us see the relationship develop, either.

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