The Grace Year
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.
Girls are branded with their father's symbol at birth, marking them as property. Before their Grace Year, the boys of the same age and men whose wives have died or been sentenced to death (for hoarding/using their magic), can claim a bride through barters with their fathers. Tierney has never wanted to be a wife, even though this is considered the best fate, and she knows that she will go to a grueling manual job if she is not married. However, this has its own freedom, and Tierney longs for that freedom- even though many of those girls are sexually assaulted and physically worn down. The alternative fate is to be cast out of the county where they will work as prostitutes.
As Tierney and the other girls are forced into a brutal struggle for survival, hallucinating and punishing each other, Tierney begins to see bigger truths about the world around her. As her mother says, even though her eyes are wide open, she sees nothing. The Grace Year changes that and robs her of any innocence she had remaining. With poachers- men who slowly skin and dismember the girls who stray to sell to the county for youth serums- waiting at the edges, Tierney learns that the greatest threat may be from within as the girls turn on each other.
This book was dark, enthralling, and lyrically atmospheric. Impossible to put down, this book contains themes of feminism, survival, and social justice. The ending is a little open, and I would love to see a sequel to this book. A powerful read, this is one that will stick with the reader for long after the last page is turned.
Tierney James kind of reminded me a little of Katniss in The Hunger Games. She's strong-willed, not afraid of questioning the reasons behind the grace year and even shuns the whole idea of getting a veil right before going out into the wilderness. During that ceremony the girl's 'future' husband gives her the veil. Her and her best friend Michael stumble on what happens to those girls who don't come back at his father's apothecary shop. There are pieces of the missing girls in glass bottles. Villagers purchase them, thinking they're a youth portion. This haunts Tierney.
The scenes in the wilderness are filled with almost a psychedelic horror. Tierney watches as some of the other girls feel that they are coming into their hidden powers. She doesn't know what is real or if she's going mad. Then there is mean girl Kiersten, who blames Tierney for taking away something from her during the veiling ceremony. It's up to Tierney to try to survive through the year. Kiersten makes that task almost impossible and tries to turn the other girls against her.
Tierney fears of being captured and skinned alive almost come true. What happens is she finds that the rumors on the poachers are complicated. Not all is what it seems. In fact, those who she felt were friends could turn quickly. Especially when the idea of being super powerful and having a super power is very seductive. This is the only time the girls are by themselves and don't have to follow the rules of the males in the village. Some of the girls succumb to that allure and others end up going mad.
There's a forbidden love angle that is bittersweet. Tierney wants to follow her heart, but knows if she does her younger sister will be cast outside. Her struggle to either follow her heart or help the other girls is one that she battles with throughout the novel.
Handmaid's Tale meets Lord of the Flies in this thought-provoking tale where the idea of magic is tempered with the will to survive. This story is one that will keep readers on the edge of their seat on what will happen to Tierney when she's banished with the other girls during the grace year. There's also shown the power of rallying together and standing up to injustices against women. Powerful, insightful, and a story that is guaranteed to stay with readers long after they finish the last page.