Tuesday, 17 September 2019

REVIEW - THE GRACE YEAR BY KIM LIGGETT

Title: The Grace Year
Author: Kim Liggett
Genre: Teens, YA, Sci-Fi, Dystopian 
Publisher: Wednesday Books, St Martins Press
Release Date: 17th September 2019

BLURB from Goodreads
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.

With sharp prose and gritty realism, The Grace Year examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between.


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REVIEW
A Society that sends all it’s 16 year old's off for a full year alone, to fend for themselves had me fascinated. After reading the blurb of this one I really wanted to read the book. I had seen another book that is coming our soon being called “a female version of Lord Of The Flies” and wondered if perhaps this book may be something similar too.

The society in this book is definitely run by the males, their word is law. Women are there to serve their husbands every need and to accept any punishment that is doled out as thought necessary by the men. The men believe all women are born with inner magic, that rises and becomes more powerful around their sixteenth birthday. So, all sixteen year old females are cast out of their village settlements and are escorted to a special fenced of place a few days away. This year away is referred to as The Grace Year. Going away for “The Grace Year” is not negotiable you have to go! The reason for the banishment is so these girls on the verge of becoming women can release their magic into the wilds surrounding them during their “Grace Year” The girls are expected to return meek and quieter and ready to marry the person who has chosen them. When the women return from the Grace Year, that is if they return, they are not allowed to speak about it. So, each set of Grace Year Girls walks off into the unknown every year with no help, or advice on what to expect. They are given a back pack each with approved items in it so no one has an unfair advantage. The girls are however told that there are poachers all around the area they will be living for a year.

There’s lots of excitement for the upcoming Grace Year and all the pomp and ceremony that happens prior to it. The first ting that happens on the day is putting on your new dress. Tierney’s parents work hard in their respective jobs but are not well off enough to be able to afford a brand, new dress just for Tierney. June brings Tierney her own dress that she wore many years ago to her veiling ceremony when she was chosen by her now husband. Tierney is happy to have her older sister June’s dress, it’ll be fine enough for her, she doesn’t expect to be chosen as a future wife anyway. Tierney wants to remain single, which to her means being free. She also wants to work in the fields, a job that is thought as a low, not so good job as it’s hard work day in day out. Tierney is happy and hopes that when Michael becomes the head of the council, he might pull a string or two to make sure she is assigned to work in the fields. June’s dress is a deep blue raw silk dress with beautiful river clam pearls on a shawl neckline. The dress still smells of lilacs and fear. A white lilac was the flower that June’s suitor, which is the symbol of early love and innocence. All flowers have their own special meanings.

There are twelve eligible boys tasked with choosing their future wife. There are thirty -three girls to be chosen from, which to be honest Tierney is quite happy about as she thinks that means there is an even lower chance of being chosen. The girls are expected to wear their pretty dresses and parade around town to give the boys a last chance of viewing them before the choosing ceremony. The boys are expected to go into the barn with the men to barter the futures of the girls, rather like they would barter or bid for cattle. Tierney compares herself to cattle in more that one way, as at birth they are branded on the bottom of the foot with their fathers special sigil. It is an identifying mark from then on, especially if something happened to them. It has often been the only way to identify a dead grace year girl. When all the boys have made their claims and choices, the fathers go to the church where the girls are waiting to take the veils to their daughters and silently place them on their heads. The girl’s suitors are not revealed until the next day, when they will lift the girl’s veils and then they will learn who they are.

The following day the girl’s mothers and already married sisters prepare the grace year girls. The girls hair is plaited and a red ribbon attached to the bottom of the plair to signify the wearer is in their grace year. They are all given a travel cloak as when the veil lifting ceremony is over, they will head straight out for their grace year. Once the girls are suitably dressed their fathers give them a flower, chosen by their suitor.  This society places a lot of emphasis on the flower each girl has too. As many years ago when people could not speak the same language, they would use flowers they were the common language everyone could use and understand. It’s not long before Tierney finds herself lined up dressed for travelling, veil in place, holding a gardenia. A Gardenia is considered an old-fashioned flower but it is the sign of purity and secret love. All the girls are in line clutching their flowers wondering who is going to lift their veil. Once all that is out of the way, regardless about how the girls feel they leave for their grace year. When they return, their red ribbon will be pulled away and replaced by a black one. They will then marry their suitor and begin a married life and be expected to have children. Once the girls know who their suitors are. They girls are then hustled away to do their grace year. Friends and family watch all the girls trudge away, not really knowing what state they will be coming back, or even if they will make it back. Despite the grace year not being allowed to be spoken about there are plenty of tales, such as poachers kidnapping girls, killing them, chopping them up and then selling their body parts back to the alchemist in Garner County.

Other than the tall tales the girls are quite literally blind to where they are going, where they will be staying, how they will manage together for a year alone. To say some of the girls are petrified is an understatement with one girl throwing herself overboard from a canoe as she couldn’t bear the thoughts of what was to come. There are plenty of prejudices, dislikes, and petty bullying going on within the fenced compound the girls have to live in. This is where Tierney is quite in her element all those things her father taught her, like starting a fire, and building things. Tierney soon realises that some of the little things different members of her family have shared with her, talked about or taught her have all be in preparation for her own grace year. Sadly, as is usual with groups there are always outcasts, nastiness and bullies. Tierney finds herself alone fighting the weather and terrain around her. This grace year really is survival of the fittest both in the physical and mental capabilities.
One of the main scare stories is that of the poachers who surround the compound they girls are living in. Tierney does meet and befriends a poacher, she even considers not going back to Garner County. Tierney attempts many times to help the other girls who are ruled by the self-appointed leader Kiersten. A lot happens within the compound and those there come to learn why this grace year is not talked about.

The seasons pass and the girls just have to get on with living as best they can. When the time comes for the girls to return, the majority of them have secrets to keep, some small harmless ones, others horrific and Tierney has a secret that she will find very difficult to hide. Will her suitor still want to marry her? Will he still have feeling about her? Will he still accept her opinions on the changes that need to be made for Garner County to progress or will he resort to the old-fashioned methods of everything having to be done by the men of the county. Tierney finds herself reflecting on what she learnt throughout her grace year. To say Tierney is “before her time” would be an apt description. When she looks around Garner County, she begins seeing small signs, things she had thought she could only dream about, small signs from the other women who are also ready for some changes. Maybe life and old-traditions and ways won’t change as quickly as Tierney wanted and dreamt about but she cannot deny there are some little signs that herald small changes, that will turn into larger and larger ones over time.

My favourite female characters were Tierney, her eldest sister June who provided her with a dress when a new one couldn’t be bought. I even grew to like Tierney’s mum who appears to live the life she has been told by previous ancestors without questioning anything at all. I enjoyed disliking Kiersten, the bossy, stuck up, head mean girl that knew everything about everyone and put herself in charge, even professing she had magic that could make anyone do as she wanted them to.
My favourite male character was Tierney’s dad who had taught his daughter the tom-boy of the family lots of useful survival, hunting and gathering techniques. Tierney had actually thought he had taught her these things as he had really wanted a male child to do those things with and she was the substitute. When you read the book there’s a possibility you may wonder what I thought to a character called Michael, to be honest I did like him some of the time but I felt I wanted more from him. I guess I should stay the jury is still out on him, I kind of did like him but then there were occasions in the book I really wanted to slap him or shake some sense into him! I did love the character called Ryker too, he showed a softer more caring side to himself as well as the toughness and strength he needed to survive.

I have been quite detailed on all the traditions around the preparation for the veiling ceremony, but this book is difficult to review without spoilers, though I am doing my best not to reveal too much. Once I started reading this book, I seriously hated having to put it down! It really is genuinely addictive reading, from some of the archaic traditions, the traditions the girls love to be part of to the rather horrifying prospect of the grace year. I have purposefully not said a lot about the grace year that Tierney and her fellow 16yr old girls endure because to start revealing small things they would begin to reveal larger things. It’s a part of the book you really need to read and have what happens slowly revealed ad the author intended it to. This is as far as I know a standalone book, which it does really work well. Though I wouldn’t say no to a catch up with the Garner County society a few years down the line to see if they have progressed in the way both Tierney and myself as a reader would wanted them to have done. I’d love them to have more contact with those that live in the outskirts and find out who is related to who. As well as wanting a catch up with the grace year girls we met in this book. It would be interesting to learn if Garner County would still be sending its sixteen year old girls away for a grace year too.

I honestly loved this amazing book. There's a really heart warming, tear jerking scene towards the end of the book. Some amazing characters and a fantastically well written unique plot.


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