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The Grace Year

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Grace Year Book Poster Image
Dystopian tale is harrowing, haunting, lyrical.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This dystopian thriller is meant to entertain and provide food for thought about things like feminism, community, fear, gender relations, oppression, and more.

Positive Messages

If you take away people's ability to chose for themselves you not only hurt them emotionally and spiritually, their resentment and anger will eventually come pouring out in all the wrong ways. We can make the world a better place if we band together, letting our strength, mercy, and warmth shine; helping each other up instead of tearing each other down; and giving each the freedom to play their part as best they can. Growing up and accepting responsibility also means accepting love and kindness, and treating them well when they're offered to you.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Tierney is a great role model for fighting against ignorance and trusting in truth and facts instead of superstition and magic. She wants to bring about the changes needed to make the world the kind of place she wants to live in, instead of the kind of place where she merely survives because she doesn't break the rules. She's always motivated by what's best for everyone, and is determined survive and live life on her own terms. The large cast of other characters are all complex with a wide range of behaviors, some easy to understand and others not so much. Ultimately, we come to understand and empathize with even the scariest villains.

Violence

A main plot point involves 16-year-old girls being skinned alive and body parts cut off so they can be eaten; it's not described directly but sounds and screams of pain are heard. Brutal punishments include having body parts cut off and hung from a tree, burning alive, whipping, and beating. There's not a lot of detailed gore, but blood and pain are mentioned a lot in a dark, intense atmosphere. Pain and injuries are also described in detail. A man pinches a teen hard "between the legs." A teen who saw childbirth describes it as "violence and pain."

Sex

A few kisses with one mention of tongues touching. Teens have sex once that's not directly narrated but romantic and physical attraction are described and kissing and undressing are mentioned.

Language

"Slut," "whore," and "prick" as an insult.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Brief mention of pipe smoking. A liquid with poppy in it used for pain relief. A major plot point involves unknowingly drinking water poisoned with hemlock.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kim Liggett's The Grace Year can be a difficult and harrowing read at times. Physical brutality toward oppressed women is a major theme, especially involving cutting off teen girls' body parts both as punishment and for their magical qualities. Characters are frequently in danger of being caught and skinned alive and then cut up for their parts. There's not a lot of detailed gore, but blood, pain, and injuries are described, sometimes in detail. A man pinches a teen girl hard between the legs. A few kisses are described briefly, and two teens have sex but it's not described beyond kissing, undressing, and emotions. It's a great opportunity to read along with your mature teen or book club and talk about feminism, community, fear, gender relations, oppression, and especially about women's relationships with each other and society.

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What's the story?

Every year, all the 16-year-old girls are sent off to spend THE GRACE YEAR at a remote encampment in the woods. By that age they're supposed to have come into their magic, which is powerful enough to lure men into sin and drive other women mad with jealousy. So they're sent off into the wild with very little in the way of provisions to survive as best they can while ridding themselves of their magic. Just outside the encampment are the ruthless, ever-present poachers, who try to lure the teens outside the safety of the encampment so that they can harvest their magic and sell their body parts for sacks of gold. Now that it's Tierney's year, she hopes she can prove to the others that if they work together, they can get through the year without losing anyone to starvation, illness, or the poachers. But when the magic starts to take hold, things become so much worse than any of them could have imagined.

Is it any good?

Haunting, harrowing, timely, timeless, this richly detailed dystopian thriller isn't easy to read, but it's impossible to put down. Author Kim Liggett's prose pulls you immediately into a world you don't fully understand yet, and she pulls so beautifully that you just have to follow even as you're not sure you want to understand. It doesn't take long before vivid pictures of the people in The Grace Year and their world form in your mind while building suspense and dread keep the pages turning. Through narrator Tierney's authentic voice, you witness brutality and fear, taste freedom as you fight for your life, and dream that the world really can be a place you actually want to live.

Mature themes about womanhood, community, oppression, gender roles ,and relationships, and so much more make it a great choice for a book club, or to read along with your mature teens who can handle the violence and are ready to take on larger-world issues.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the takeaways from The Grace Year. Is it ultimately hopeful? How does it make you feel about your place in society and your relationships, especially with other girls and women?

  • What are Tierney's character strengths and weaknesses? Did you like or admire her? Why, or why not? 

  • What about the violence? Does it serve a purpose in this story? Is it glorified? Why does so much of it involve teen girls' body parts?

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