Wednesday Books | 2019
Opening Hook: You know when you get shipped to the woods so you don’t steal someone’s husband?
Main Character: Raging Feminist Buzzkill
Plot Twisty-ness: Doing magic mushrooms
First of all, every time I look at that cover, for a split second I see a vagina. It looks like the cover of the Vagina Monologues or something to me. Remember that shit? Anyway, I’m not sure if that’s on purpose because of what this novel is about or if my brain is officially fried, but here we are.
My vagina is a YA novel cover.
This book was a trip. It’s not perfectly executed, but it’s right on the cusp of being something perfect so I’m focussing on that.
The plot is literally so 👏 fucking 👏 good. If you’re like me – a raging feminist – you’re going to want to read this book.
Basically, we’re in some M. Night Shyamalan The Village shit where girls are banished to live together at an isolated camp in the wilderness during the year of their 16th birthday. This is their Grace Year. The reason being, once a girl turns 16 she comes into the “magic” powers that all women hold over men that will end lives, destroy marriages and steal husbands away.
The girls are meant to release their magic into the wild so they can come home “pure” (read: not scary to men.) Once home, they are married off, but only if one of the boys chooses them. Those not chosen for marriage and birthin’ babies, basically live out their lives to indentured servitude.
My vagina is an indentured servant.
The feminist metaphors for our current social patriarchy are flying all over the place in this novel and GIVING ME LIFE.
But, there is a lot of world-building that I found was lacking. There’s little background to what this place is, no history to how we got here as a society and little character development to those running this shit show. Like, why would we as a society – or even just one town – suddenly decide 16-year-old girls have magic powers that destroy men and drive their wives insane with jealousy? There’s got to be a fascinating story there, but it’s never tackled. I’m going to just assume men designed the system for power and control, because what else is new?
I eventually settled in with the belief that this novel was taking place in an entirely different universe than ours, but who knows.
Tierney James is entering her 16th year and she’s a little spitfire feminist in the making. She’s not interested in being a wife and mother. She wants something more for her life, but what can she really do to disrupt the system? To change what all the women around her have just accepted without argument?
I loved Tierney, but there were some moments in the wild’s encampment where things got very Mean Girls meets Lord of the Flies, and I was a little annoyed that she seemed to misplace her backbone as she was constantly bullied. Eventually, she finds her voice and her inner activist and starts motivating the Grace Year girls to work harder and not accept the bullshit they are being fed.
Outside the encampment, in the wilds, there are a group of people known as poachers who make their living hunting girls who are in their Grace Year. This was a weird, interesting addition to the plot, but unfortunately, it led to a romance subplot that I 100% could have done without.
I’m not sure why every YA novel feels compelled to include an “I just met you, but I know I’m in love with you after two days” plot element but I can basically set my watch to them and I’m over it.
My vagina is a superfluous romance subplot.
As far as dystopian YA novels go, I found this to be better than most with feminist vibes and patriarchy metaphors that were enraging and beautiful. It’s an interesting look at feminism, women’s rights and the roles women are expected to play in society, and what can happen when some of us decide we’re not down with those expectations.
There’s also a little examination of our fear of “the other” and the unknown, whether that’s the future or other humans we have no experience with but are told to hate from a very young age.
So it’s like, heavy but also weird and other-worldly and dystopian. It’s not a perfect novel, but y’all know I hate most YA that I read and I did not hate this!
No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.
In Garner County, girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to 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 a chance to grab one of the girls in order to make a 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.