YA Weekend Audio: The Grace Year by Kim Liggett
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 2.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Wednesday Books (October 8, 2019)
Length: 416 pages
Narrator: Emily Shaffer
Well, this certainly didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. Maybe it’s because there was so much going on, or that all the parts just didn’t fit together as well as they should, but quite a few things came together in way that kept me from enjoying this book. And to be honest, a lot of the themes rubbed me the wrong way.
Billed as a speculative thriller in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale, throw in a bit of The Crucible, The Hunger Games, and Lord of the Flies and you’ll have something resembling The Grace Year. The story follows Tierney James who is preparing for a rite of passage that every young woman in the village must go through once they reach age sixteen. In her home of Garner County, it is believed that girl has the magic to seduce a man, to drive other women to jealousy, and this power is in their very bones, their blood, and on their skin. To cleanse them of this poisonous curse before marriage, girls are sent off into the wild for a “grace year”, where they can release their magic before returning to the village purified.
But in the wilderness, there are many dangers. The young women on their grace year are expected to fend for themselves against the elements, resource shortages, and, of course, each other. Then, there are the hunters who live in the woods, called poachers because they believe the magic of the girls’ body parts can fetch high prices on the black market. Every year, a few young women fall victim to these killers and don’t make it home. Tierney, however, is determined to survive her grace year. Though she has no plans to marry even when she returns, she has her younger sisters to think about, who would be at the village’s mercy if she dies.
But right before her grace year, Tierney’s best friend Michael paints a target on her back by presenting her with a veil—signifying his intent to marry her. This causes Kiersten, the mean-spirited girl whom everyone thought was his intended, to become even more nasty and vindictive than ever. And now, Tierney must go into the wilderness with her, along with more than thirty other girls. Already the tribal lines have been drawn, and they grow ever deeper as Kiersten uses her manipulation to gain more support to her side.
So, I think I know where Kim Liggett was trying to go with The Grace Year. The feminist undertones came through loud and clear, as did the messages about women fighting back against a male-dominated society and female oppression. Unfortunately though, the execution was well off the mark and in some ways even more degrading than the toxic patriarchal attitudes this story was meant to take apart, and I blame it all on the pandering to YA genre conventions. YA books these days, especially those starring female protagonists, tend to play too much emphasis on romance and not enough on female friendships. Somewhere along the way, we’ve come to associate the “strong female character” with a young woman who stands alone, and worse, she’s always inevitably the one who all the men in the story are interested in, and her most significant relationship by the end of the book always turns out to be one with–you guessed it—a guy.
This is pretty much Tierney. On the surface, she makes an appealing protagonist—independent, determined, and resourceful. And yet, she is vulnerable and delicate in her isolation. At the end of the day, she still had to be saved by Ryker, a poacher. After which, queue one of the worst insta-love romances I’ve ever read in my life, so that’s saying something. I actually let out a “What the hell?” when they just decided to jump into bed. Worse, Tierney’s “awakening” to her feelings towards Ryker seemed to have come soon after the part where he verbally claims her in front of his friend Anders, so make of that how you will.
Finally, this book touches upon one of my biggest pet peeves—a story which is supposed to celebrate women coming together and supporting each other to fight against the obstacles placed against them, except the biggest conflicts somehow wind up coming down to the women tearing each other down. The two strongest women in this book were Tierney and Kiersten, and sadly, they were pitted against each other. The rest of the girls were either complete nobodies or mindless sheep, led by the nose by either character. Tierney also spends much of this book walking around with an infuriatingly self-righteous “forgive them, for they know not what they do” attitude, and her relationship with Gertie, the closest thing to a friendship she has among the grace year girls, feels more like an opportunity to exercise her savior complex rather than something truly genuine.
So what The Grace Year boils down to is a book that feels like it wants to convey a good message, but regrettable, that message—along with the ways the author tried to convey it—came across as extremely messy or simply misguided. Then there was that awkward romance which threw a wrench into the whole thing. Clearly though, I have my own biases against the certain YA genre tropes and this story just so happened the contain a few that really annoy me, so you might do better with it. I was a huge fan of Lim Liggett’s The Last Harvest, but this and her last book The Unfortunates didn’t work for me, so while I’ll still probably check out her future work, next time I’ll keep expectations in check.
Audiobook Comments: Despite my issues with some of the story elements of The Grace Year, the book was actually pretty good in audio, though for about the first hour or so I thought the main character’s name was “Tyranny” based on the way the narrator said it. I also enjoyed the interview between Kim Liggett and Emily Shaffer at the end of book, giving some great insights into the novel’s inspiration.