The Grace Year by Kim Liggett
Published by Wednesday Books on September 17, 2019
Genres: Dystopia, Feminism, Romance, Science Fiction, Teen, Thriller, Young Adult
Length: 416 pages Source: NetGalley
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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.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from NetGalley and Wednesday Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I have some mixed feelings about The Grace Year. On one hand, this book is really conceptually interesting. It has some serious The Handmaid’s Tale vibes and it’s atmospherically very creative and interesting. But The Grace Year tried to do a lot of things all at once and I think it over-reached itself.
For starters, the pacing was really weird. Sometimes, we were able to really absorb the situation and the world, and when the story slowed down, the bits and pieces were excellent. But there were other places that the story seemed to fast-forward and it was easy to get lost. I struggled with the inconsistent pacing. I believe the pacing was what it was because the plot was trying to be too broad.
Going into The Grace Year, I expected a story about a group of girls let sent out in the wild for a year to shake off the wild magic in them. If this was the extent of the book, I think it would have been good. There was a lot to lend itself to a survival story in a colonial-style dystopian world. Some of the best moments in the book were at the camp. It was gritty and disturbing and raw and vulnerable. Really good. But the real plot was much broader than that, minimizing the survival story to a slice between forbidden romance and a greater conspiracy. These themes would have worked across three books, but it was all too much for one, and there was no depth to it. Instead of being immersed in a dark story, it felt more like being pushed on a sled across fresh snow. Fun for a minute, but then I’m ready to go inside for hot cocoa.
Some of the characters are built up and interesting, whether good or evil. Gertie is fantastic and I’d arguably say the most interesting character in the book, but she feels a bit… dropped in. Nothing comes from her story, and she is almost like this token f/f character. Gertie’s sexuality is fact-dropped, and has no bearing on the actually turn of the story. Her friendship with Tierney had a lot of potential and shone through at times, but ultimately felt more like a plot device than any real part of the story. The same with Kiersten’s tyranny. Kiersten is a perfect book one villain – a small villain whose defeat opens doors to bigger challenges and bigger problems. Instead, I felt like she was played down a lot at the end. As for Tierney, our protagonist? She’s all over the place. For the other villains and the love interests – we don’t get to spend enough time with any of them to create any depth of feeling. One villain is unveiled about 75% through the book, and even though what was done was terrible, it was so irrelevant and just one thing among many… the reveal had no punch.
Atmospherically, The Grace Year has a lot going for it. Each of the individual settings are vibrant. I personally would have liked to see more senses used, particularly taste and smell, but the element of sound is used really well. As I mentioned earlier, it was dark and gritty in the right places, and that worked really well.
I have a few fundamental issues with the formatting that may be related to the ARC exclusively – the way the e-galley was set up, the only natural breaks were between seasons, so each of the sections were about 75 pages long (rough guess). I’d have like to have seen chapters, but that could honestly just be something going on at the ARC-level and there may be chapters in the final product. Just seemed worth mentioning!
Generally speaking, there was a lot going on in The Grace Year. I wasn’t in love with this book, but I do respect the craft in it. It was an easy book to read and engrossing despite the issues I personally had with it. I’d have liked to see there be a little more depth in all the parts, and the story stretched across three books, but on its own, The Grace Year is an interesting book with a great atmosphere and some promises of serious girl power.
Do you think you could survive a year in the woods? I grew up in the forests, so I feel like I could make it work with a group of people with different skills? Let me know if you’d survive in the comments!