Reynje's Reviews > Grace

Grace by Elizabeth Scott
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May 18, 2012

bookshelves: books-that-linger, it-s-complicated, read-2012, young-adult
Read from May 13 to 14, 2012

So, Goodreads and I are at an impasse. It asks for a rating, and I refuse to give one.

And it’s not due to a failure on the book’s behalf to elicit a response - in fact the opposite is true. I just don’t think I can translate that response into a quantifiable form.

This is unusual work with a striking premise. Grace, raised to be a suicide bomber, is fleeing her unnamed country ruled by the despot Keran Berj. In the company of a mysterious escort, Kerr, she is bound for the border with a single chance at freedom.

If you’re already familiar with Elizabeth’s Scott’s spare, efficient prose – you’ll notice that in Grace she takes it even further, paring the words back to the bone. Yet none of the power of the prose is lost in stripping it down so dramatically, instead it seems to gain strength from its economy. Scott never completely spells out the full extent of the violence, sex and fear of her world, but the oblique inferences still permeate the story with a sense of bleakness and menace.

Grace herself, raised by freedom fighters yet spurned for her mixed heritage, is a complex character that embodies the book’s central themes of choice and survival. All of the choices Grace makes have a cost, the thread of hope she holds comes at a price. Any decision she makes will involve sacrifice, life bought with the taking of others.
”I have spent my whole life waiting to die. Not wanting to, but waiting. I saw the difference the day I walked away, and this train ride has taught me that I will do anything to survive.[…] And I am not, and will not ever be, sorry that I am.”
Scott allows the story to retain its moral ambiguity throughout, and refrains from having the characters pontificate on the rightness or wrongness of their actions. Both of these people carry a burden of bloodguilt, and have been raised to rationalise their choices, yet the story isn’t told in a manner that demands the reader to find them defensible. It does, however, ask the reader to consider whether such a person is defined by their past. Can they embrace life having been taught to not to value it, and in fact, should they?

Despite the slight volume of this book, just over 200 pages, it’s a deeply layered story. It unfolds itself gradually as the character’s comprehension of their choices becomes clearer. Yet while so much of the content of the story is internal, centred around reflection on their respective journeys to this point – it doesn’t lack tension. Scott uses the setting of the train, the presence of soldiers, the atmosphere of uncertainty and danger to keep the story taut. Additionally, by keeping Kerr’s motivations and identity concealed for much of the plot, Grace’s position always feels precarious, threatened.

The fictional near-future of Grace feels believable to me, the world and its premise are rooted closely enough in our own reality to be frighteningly feasible. But do I believe in the decisions of the characters? Do I think this would happen, that two people in these respective situations would make these choices, come to these conclusions? I don’t know about that. I’d like to, of course. I want to. But I do think this story sustains plausibility only up to a point. Beyond that, I feel it’s more of a philosophical journey for the reader than a strictly realistic one.

Grace is a bold, difficult book – but it doesn’t feel unduly provocative. While writing a story about suicide bombers, indoctrination and a brutal regime, Scott draws the focus to the universal issues of hope, guilt, shame and independence. It is a demanding book, it does ask the reader to invest their personal code of ethics in its examination of these characters. It’s uncomfortable, yet powerful.

And I really don’t know how to reduce that down to a number of stars.

* * * * *
Grace is the most unusual book I have read this year, and the first I am seriously considering not rating. And not because:

(a) ”There are not enough stars in the goodreads universe to express my love for this unparalleled work of genius!”


(b) ”NO EFFING STARS. Burn it, burn it with fire.”

When I finish procrastinating and post an actual review, I’ll attempt to explain why..
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Reading Progress

05/14/2012 page 73
35.0% 2 comments
08/20/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Nafiza (new)

Nafiza The cover makes me swoon. It is so subtly symbolic and yes, I am geek enough to love it on its own as a work separate from the story it er...heralds? :D

Wendy I had mixed feelings as well.

It's very different than other Post-Apoc YA Lit. It definitely lacks the love triangles, the angst, the side plots, etc.

It was a wander into a place I'm not used to, with sparse prose and light action.

But I think it hit me just right, and I liked it for that.

message 3: by Reynje (new) - added it

Reynje Thanks Nafiza and Wendy - I agree with both you :)

The cover is so haunting - one of the few examples of when I like "face" covers.

The more I think about this book, the more I appreciate it. But so tough to articulate why..

message 4: by Kate (new) - added it

Kate Copeseeley Wow, I'm intrigued. I don't think there has ever been a book I didn't want to rate, but there are times when I feel that I can't simplify a review down to a single rating. I've also felt like there are times when I want to do something like 5.5 stars, just to show that little bit extra that I've loved a book.

The fact that you don't have any interest in rating it makes me want to read it all the more, though. :)

message 5: by Reynje (new) - added it

Reynje Kate wrote: "Wow, I'm intrigued. I don't think there has ever been a book I didn't want to rate, but there are times when I feel that I can't simplify a review down to a single rating. I've also felt like the..."

Thanks Kate :) Maybe I'll eventually decide.. I think I'll reread this one and that might help me make up my mind. It's definitely an interesting and unusual book, and I do recommend it.

message 6: by Glaiza (new)

Glaiza I have those non-rating days too when I'm still processing a book but this sounds really interesting. I'm moving it up my TBR.

message 7: by Reynje (new) - added it

Reynje Glaiza wrote: "I have those non-rating days too when I'm still processing a book but this sounds really interesting. I'm moving it up my TBR."

I'd love to hear what you think, Glaiza :)

message 8: by Sarah (new) - added it

Sarah I really like Elizabeth Scott's writing, even when I don't like her books (if that makes any sense at all). I've been waffling as to whether or not to read it... You've certainly piqued my interest enough for me to tip it in the direction of "read."

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