REVIEW: The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

Tierney James lives in an isolated village where girls are banished at sixteen to the northern forest to brave the wilderness – and each other – for a year. They must rid themselves of their dangerous magic before returning purified and ready to marry – if they’re lucky. It is forbidden to speak of the grace year, but even so every girl knows that the coming year will change them – if they survive it…

I found The Grace Year to be a very interesting and compelling YA dystopian story. It has elements of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Lord of the Flies so you can kind of guess what some of the plot elements or vibes will be, but I think The Grace Year puts its own take on these elements and has a really strong but flawed lead in Tierney.

Something I really liked about The Grace Year was the young women’s magic – or should that be “magic”? It leaves you wondering for a while whether or not the magic is truly supernatural magic, or if it’s a religious doctrine, or its just what this society calls female puberty. Arguments for the latter can be made early on with the way that men in the village look at the girls as they come of age, and then there’s also what could be described as jealousy from the women who have already gone through the grace year and are now perhaps more older and less desirable than they’d like to be.

The way young men (and men old enough to be these girls fathers) get to choose a bride and the girls have no choice in any of it is really creepy and unsettling. In this society, there’s no real value to girls and instead they are just seen as a would-be wife and mother. The idea that they have their own desires, sexual or otherwise, is deemed to be absurd and any sign of confidence or free-thinking is seen as rebellion and a sign of their magic. There are swift and deadly consequences for any woman accused of hiding their magic after their grace year.

The Grace Year is told in first person perspective and Tierney is an interesting narrator as she’s kind of stubborn. Though she wishes for things to be different, she doesn’t always see what’s happening around her as like everyone else, she puts everyone, especially the women, in their strict roles deemed by society. Tierney has survival skills a lot of the other girls she’s sent away with don’t as her father taught her things. These skills end up like a double-edged sword as they mark her out as different and other girls turn against her, not trusting her skills and considering her impure. As Tierney starts learning from the other girls, and from people outside the walls they’re kept in, she starts putting together what may have happened in previous grace years and how that fits in with what (or who) she might desire herself.

There is a romance element I wasn’t expecting in The Grace Year and there’s a lot more body-horror and just generally horrifying moments too. The descriptions don’t shy away from the brutality these teen girls face, characters die and sometimes in horrible ways. There’s violence perpetrated by both men and women, towards both men and women, and it can be quite gruesome at times.

The Grace Year is atmospheric and unsettling and has interesting ideas about puberty and womanhood and how men can be both dangerous towards women and what they do to stop women having their own agency. Because that’s an idea running throughout the story, if these women had the confidence and trust to come together rather than compete against one another, there’s the potential to be stronger than the men who are in control. Multiple times it’s mentioned how the women outnumber the men in this village so if there’s a chance of some female solidarity, there’s a chance that things could change for the better for everyone. 4/5.

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