The Grace Year is aptly introduced with quotes from The Handmaids Tale (Margaret Atwood) and Lord of the Flies (William Golding), two classic works that obviously acted as strong inspiration for Kim Liggett’s new novel. Although marketed as a YA title, The Grace Year would also appeal to adults who enjoy dystopic fantasy along the lines of The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) or Divergent (Veronica Roth). The action takes place in either a pre-industrial past or possibly a post-technological future-it is unclear which. Regardless, is a bleak world in which women outnumber men but are subjugated due to superstition and fear. Liggett’s narrator is Tierney, a young woman on the verge of adulthood, who is preparing for a ritual practiced in Garner County where she lives with her family. The Grace Year refers to the rite of passage endured by Garner’s young women who are sent away to a locked encampment for one year. During this time, they are left to fend for themselves as they rid themselves of emerging magical abilities believed to be brought on by adolescence. Their potential power is highly feared, and the danger inherent in the girls’ emerging sexuality is used as justification for their exile. Many do not return, and those that do often come back with deep scars-both physical and emotional. No one knows what happens during their time away, since speaking about the Grace Year is forbidden and punishable by death. Before they are cast out, the girls are selected by marriageable men and will be consigned to their houses when/if they return. Male offspring are the priority, and the women who do not produce them are regularly discarded, cast out and replaced by others. Those who are not married are destined to be servants or are sent beyond the gates of the County to be hunted by predatory men. Of course, Tierney is very different from the other girls in her Grace Year- she has survival skills she learned from her physician father, keen intelligence and an iron will to resist the path that tradition has paved for her. When her trial begins, she seems uniquely advantaged, but what she could not have prepared for is the cruelty of her fellow exiles and a mob mentality that can suffocate even the brightest of independent spirits. The Grace Year is a good example of nice pacing and character development that can often be absent in the ubiquitous landscape of YA dystopic thriller offerings. Tierney’s adventure and challenges are exciting to follow, and the book’s setting as pitted against its strong feminist viewpoint makes this story at once infuriating and satisfying. It is unfortunate that the author chooses to position her heroine in ways that are ultimately subservient to the males that assert dominance in her world. If Ligett is paving the way for a sequel, hopefully Tierney’s story will continue in a way that feels more vindicating for those readers who demand a heroine worthy of admiration and respect.
Thanks to the author, St. Martin’s Books (Wednesday Press) and NetGalley for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.