This book is one of my biggest disappointments in years. Everyone was talking about how great this was-- it's the YA Hype Train™ in action, yet again, and once more, I'm left behind in the dust to wonder, "Did I read a different book than everyone else?" It's not that I don't trust your judgement, exactly, it's just that-- okay, yeah, I don't trust your judgement. What the fuck was this?
THE GRACE YEAR is a book that borrows ideas and concepts from several notable works of speculative dystopic-themed fiction, including (obviously) The Handmaid's Tale, but also The Crucible, The Hunger Games, Lord of the Flies, and The Purge. It's set in a society with institutional and social misogyny built inherently into its system where women are sorted by caste based on their marital status and believed to be full of magic that is both a danger and an aphrodisiac. At age sixteen, they're released into the woods beyond to sow their proverbial wild oats, and release their magic, despite the many dangers of the woods and the poachers who collect and sell their bodies to be used in potions.
Tierney, the main character, is one of these girls. Before their release, they are "claimed" by the men who want them, and Tierney is as surprised as anyone when she's promised to a boy before she leaves. Once out in the wilds, it takes a decidedly Lord of the Flies note where the girls go a little crazy at the behest of their sociopathic and Resident Mean Girl Ringleader™ who seems to hate women just as much, if not more so, as the men in this book, so what's a little girl on girl hate?
People were lauding this book for its feminist themes. I don't really see that. Men play such a focal point in this story and end up being Tierney's saving grace. The girls and women all hate each other, and it doesn't really bring any new criticisms to the table that stories like Handmaid haven't already done. There's also the usual YA love triangle in this book, which in my opinion makes it even less of a feminist work, particularly since it feels so unnecessary and is done so passionlessly. All of the twists feel like cop-outs and lack finesse. I thought the big secret was totally lame-- and, even worse, I completely predicted it. From the beginning. But I've read all the books that this author probably drew inspiration from, which is the problem with being well-read. Nothing surprises you anymore.*
*Yes, I realize that sounds snobby. But all my haters accuse me of that anyway, so I may as well revel in my literary snobbery. I'm not ashamed: I am one smart bitch, and I fucking know it.
Maybe if this book hadn't been sold to me as The Next Big Thing with people hyping it up left and right, I probably would have liked it more. But I'm honestly shocked everyone is kicking up such a big fuss about it. I thought it was unimaginative and lacked the world and character development it so desperately needed to make it great. The beginning had so much promise and then it jumped the shark and the story went to shit. Curse you, YA Hype Train™, for setting me up to be the bad guy yet again.
1.5 out of 5 stars