The Grace Year // by Kim Liggett

//published 2019//

This book, set during a time that may or more not be frontier days in the US, in a world that may or may not be the same as our own, is about a young woman in a small village.  The young woman, who is also the narrator, is named Tierney, is on the brink of experiencing what is known as the “Grace Year.”  This village believes that young women, when they reach puberty, begin to develop a magic that is so powerful and dangerous that they must be sent off into the wilderness, to an island where they live for a year, releasing their magic so that they can return back home to, of course, be oppressed wives in this absurdly patriarchal town where men are all power-hungry, cruel, and abusive, and can have their wives put to death just by saying that the wife did some magic.

The girls head off to the compound in the wilderness.  Some of them aren’t sure whether or not they even have magic, but another part of the group yearns to experience it.  Soon all the girls are acting completely out of their heads, and we get plenty of delightful violence.  Meanwhile, if a girl leaves the compound, she’s immediately (and brutally) murdered by a group of men who make their living by killing grace year girls every year, then chopping them up into bits and pieces and selling those bits and pieces back to the people in the village so they can eat them for vague reasons that are never actually made clear – aphrodisiac? Eternal youth? Who knows?

Anyway, Tierney tries to bring the girls together, but has little success for the most part.  She spends a LOT of time wandering around bemoaning her fate (pretty boring), then gets almost killed and spends a really long time recovering/falling in love (SUPER boring), then goes back to the compound to free the minds of the girls she’s left behind (mostly boring), before going back to the village so that basically nothing can change except the women become slightly less suspicious of each other (ish).

Here’s the thing.  This story was… okay.  Tierney isn’t particularly likable or interesting.  The reveals about the society are handed out in a way that feels very stuttered.  I think Liggett is going for some kind of shock factor with each one, but instead drags it out to the point that I’m more confused than anything (and bored.  Did I mention that already?  Sorry.)  So … we let random people hunt and kill the girls during their grace year?  So … we chop up the girls and sell their parts for people to eat for… random reasons that are left vague?  So … the girls don’t actually get rid of all their magic during the grace year since women can be accused of having magic at any point in their lives so the entire thing feels completely pointless?  So … if a girl doesn’t return from the grace year, all of her younger sisters get thrown out of town?  So … returning as body parts in a jar is considered returning and your little sisters DON’T get thrown out of town??  Yet the whole eating the body parts things is like kind of a shameful secret – or is it??  What even is the societal structure?  How do you have a town that produces 1/4 the number of males as females?  Is this entire situation because these people are seriously inbred?  How does no one ever leave or come to this isolated village?  Why do all the women hate each other?

Seriously, I had no idea what was happening half the time, and the other half of the time I was being BORED OUT OF MY MIND by being “subtly” preached to about the evils of the entire male sex while AT THE SAME TIME the author has Tierney be rescued not once, not twice, but THREE times BY A MAN, while at the same time acting SO obnoxious and superior to the men who have protected her.  I just.  Why.

Plus, there were absolute loads of completely illogical moments.  My personal favorite is late in the fall, Tierney accidentally spills vegetable seeds on the top of a hill that we’re repeatedly told is windy and rocky, yet when she comes back in the spring, they have not only sprouted on their own (despite being planted in the completely wrong season) but have somehow turned into an incredibly productive garden, full of produce… also at the wrong season.  How amazing!  Maybe magic is real after all!

To me, the themes of this book are so, so, SO tired and boring.  These days, as long as you write a book full of buzz words and trendy opinions (wow, so edgy to write a book about how ALL MEN ARE EVIL and ALL RELIGION IS A TOOL FOR EVIL MEN TO REPRESS ALL WOMEN), your story is automatically lauded as “deep” and “insightful”.  I’m mind blown by all the positive reviews for this one on Goodreads – my personal favorites say things like, “This will inspire women to rise up and take control of their own destinies!”  Because yes, that’s right, women in the US today definitely don’t have THE SAME EXACT RIGHTS as men and need a book with an incredibly boring, choppy, unrealistic plot to inspire them.

All this book inspired me to do was poke my own eyes out from boredom.  I just don’t think that stories about women being completely and utterly oppressed by a bunch of jerks is particularly inspiring, especially when nothing in this book was about the women truly coming together, uniting, or working together.  There’s one really nice guy out of the entire village who also is someone in a position of power and who actually cares about Tierney, but instead of working with him and finding a way to make true change in their society, Tierney basically just hides away and treats him like trash.  Wow, so inspiring.

I read this one for my traveling book club – it’s obviously not my style of book.  I didn’t exactly hate every page, and at the beginning I thought there was maybe going to be something interesting out of it.  There was one plot twist that I didn’t see coming and actually was interesting.  The rest was appalling dull, unnecessarily violent, and completely pointless.