This isn't something I would normally pick out to read, but I love Libba Bray's books and she blurbed this, so I thought I'd give it a go. And I'm glad I did.
Set in a world that is kind of like the one in The Handmaid's Tale, this book covers a little over a year in the life of Tierney James. She's sixteen, and in her County, girls are sent away for their sixteenth year to "get rid of their magic". Before they leave, they are betrothed to one of the eligible men in town and expected to come back and be good wives and mothers.
Only each year, only some of the girls come back and no one speaks of what happens during what they call 'the grace year'. There are rumours of course - it can't be helped when the apothecary is filled with jars containing various body parts of untouched women that are used as medicine. Plus one of the ways men living on the outskirts of the County earn money is as poachers who sell these girls to the apothecary.
Tierney expects the most difficult thing about the Grace Year will be the hardships of living in the woods, but is confident in her abilities in that area. Her father has prepared her well to survive in the outdoors. There are the poachers to fear too, but what Tierney doesn't anticipate is the other girls and the madness freedom from their constricted society brings on. It becomes clear from the first night they spend away from their families that not all the girls will return.
I won't go into any detail as to what happens in the woods because that would spoil it for you. But it is unexpected, even if some parts of the story don't make complete sense or feel unsatisfactory in some ways. Overall, it was a real page-turner and I really enjoyed it.
Until the ending, which didn't feel entirely satisfying to me. But maybe I was expecting too much... Or just something a little different to what actually happened.
But don't just listen to me. Here's the blurb: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.