The Grace Year

Wednesday Bks. Sept. 2019. 416p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250145444.
Gr 9 Up–At the age of 16, all girls are banished so that they can release their magic, which “lures men from their beds, makes boys lose their minds, and drives the wives mad with jealousy.” Before they are sent away, the chosen girls are given a veil signifying that they will be married when—and if—they return. Tierney dreads this “grace year.” She has no desire to be married. She has seen the condition of the girls who return. She has no fear of the menial labor she will be assigned if not chosen as a bride. She does receive an unwanted veil and leaves with the rest of the girls and the guards who are to protect them from the poachers who will kill them, dissect them, and sell what’s left of them back to the settlement as medicine. The poachers are dangerous, but so are the dynamics of the girls themselves as they fight one another and struggle to survive. This dark tale, often reminiscent of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, is both disturbing and uplifting. The cruelty shown by self-appointed leader Kiersten contrasts starkly with Tierney’s desire to maintain peace and keep everyone alive. When Tierney is forced out of the encampment and must survive on her own, her resourcefulness proves that magic is not all that they were told it was. While main characters are well drawn, minor characters lack real development. The plot, often harsh and violent, builds to a surprising conclusion, a paean to feminism in some respects.
VERDICT This is a novel that will appeal to those who like dark stories with fairy-tale elements; highly recommended as a book group discussion choice

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