The Grace Year, by Kim Liggett (Review)

We are the weaker sex, weaker no more,” the girl says. The women answer with a primal roar.”

Publication date: 10th October 2019.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5 stars

The Grace Year! Welcome to my book of the year for 2019. It’s only June, but I’m confident in this book and there’s no way any other book can sway me the way this has. If you read one book this year, it should be this one. I received a copy of this book from Ebury Publishing in exchange for a review, which hasn’t impacted my opinion on this book. That opinion being that this book is an absolute masterpiece. 

The Grace Year is a story about womanhood and sisterhood, wrapped up in a dystopia that forces women to compete against each other for the affection of men. In the county, girls that reach their sixteenth year are lined up to be chosen. Those who are chosen as wives are veiled, promised a rich and comfortable future as long as they bear sons. And as long as they can survive being sent away for their Grace Year. Because young girls growing into their womanhood are believed to carry powerful magic and they must burn it out of themselves before they can be the perfect pious wives and mothers that their husbands and sons deserve. I don’t want to go into the plot of this too much, because this was nothing that I expected and I wouldn’t want to rob another reader of the raw emotional experience of reading this book.

Being married off isn’t a privilege to me. There’s no freedom in comfort. They’re padded shackles, to be sure, but shackles nonetheless.

This book is a feminist experience, but it’s also so much more than that. It’s a lesson on womanhood, and the importance of supporting the women in our lives. I couldn’t put this book down for a single second, and found myself itching to read it while I was at work. I had it open on the kindle app on my phone before I’d even taken my coat off when I got home. It was utterly addictive, and I think that’s because the girls-turned-women in this story felt like versions of myself. Tierney, strong and wilful and desperate to be free, and Gertie, quiet and hopeful. Even Kiersten was relatable, the moments when I found myself cruel or cold to other girls as a teenager – an unfortunate side-effect of an all girl’s school, even if I like to think of myself as mostly a good person. I needed to know what would happen to them, not because I wanted a happy ending, but because I needed it for them.

This novel pulls absolutely no punches. It doesn’t so much as dabble as throw itself whole-heartedly into the dark realities of this world. Girls bodies being sold for sex or, worse, to be turned into medicines to extract their ‘magic’. A Lord of the Flies-esque community where the girls turned on each other for nothing, and where women are punished for being anything but a cookie cutter outline of a perfect wife. It’s a book full of mutilations and murder, believable even in its medieval-dystopia world. Every line seems carefully crafted, and you don’t have to look far to see allegories to our society tucked away between the lines. Still, I personally felt like this was a story of hope.

The ending of this novel is ambiguous, but I’m glad for that. There wasn’t a magical fix-it for their flawed society any more than there’s a magical fix-it for ours. Instead, The Grace Year teaches us that we should be kind and supportive of other women, and that if we work together instead of against each other, we can achieve magical things. I finished this book feeling like working with a witchy tribe of strong women, I could achieve more than any years spent competing against other women. It made me want to be better, for Tierney and for my nieces growing up in the real, harsh world. 

I hope all my friends and family are ready to hear me gush about this until October when I can force them all to read it.

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