Review: MASTER CLASS by Christina Dalcher

Review:  MASTER CLASS by Christina DalcherMaster Class by Christina Dalcher
Also by this author: Vox
three-half-stars
Published by BERKLEY on April 21, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Dystopian
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christina Dalcher’s latest novel, Master Class, is a terrifying exploration of what can happen when those in power choose to implement radical policy changes, but at such a slow and gradual pace, that the citizens don’t realize what a radical and dangerous path they’re being led down until it’s too late.

What makes Dalcher’s novel particularly frightening is that although it’s technically set in a dystopian world, the world is not that far removed from where we as a society actually are.  The whole time I was reading, I kept thinking. “Huh. I could see the current administration here trying to pull this kind of sneaky stunt.”  It’s that realness, that plausibility of something that should be totally implausible, that makes Master Class such a gripping read.  I found myself hardcore cheering on the protagonist, not just because I love to cheer on those scrappy underdog characters, but also because I just needed that reassurance, with such a realistic plot, that someone would in fact stand up to fight back against dangerous and radical policies.

I have to admit that it did take me a while to warm up to the protagonist, Elena Fairchild, though.  Her actions and choices early on in the story, combined with some flashbacks of her young adult year, paint a pretty ugly picture and I had some real issues relating to her. The radical policy changes that are the subject matter of Master Class revolve around education, specifically segregating lower performing students and sending them off to out-of-state boarding schools/institutions. Elena is a teacher at one of the elite schools where top-performing students attend, and she is also the wife of one of those in power who is specifically pushing forward this agenda.  Elena’s eldest child is excelling in the elite level school system and so Elena is very complacent about the way things are, even as she watches other children shamed if they drop in performances and end up packed up and sent away to these other schools.

It is when Elena’s youngest child, who struggles in school, fails a test and gets shipped off to a school hundreds of miles away from home that Elena finally opens her eyes and we see a different side of her. She starts to notice some of her own students getting shipped off and she can’t understand why. They were performing so well that even a failed test or two shouldn’t have dropped their scores low enough to take them to the lowest tier.  Elena starts to suspect something more sinister is afoot and makes it her mission to get to the bottom of it and to save her daughter, even if it means taking down her own husband in the process.  That was the moment when I really started to cheer on Elena, this redemption arc of sorts.  She’s smart, resourceful, and she is a Momma Bear to her core.  Do not mess with her babies.  Or anyone else’s babies for that matter.

I don’t want to go into anymore details for fear of spoilers, so I’m just going to say that it’s a wild and, at times, frightening, ride as Elena digs deeper to find out what has been going on right under her own nose.  Dalcher does a wonderful job of gradually ratcheting up the tension and suspense until everything just boils over.

Master Class is a compelling read that really took me on an emotional roller coaster.  I felt such rage at those who were coming up with these horrid educational policies, frustration at the parents who just sat by and accepted the way things were, sympathy for those who didn’t, and finally, heartbroken for the children themselves who were being hurt by them.  When I read the author’s note and learned that Dalcher based her novel on real-life events that actually happened here in America, I got angry all over again.  If you’re looking for an eye opening read about what can happen when people let their guard down and blindly accept that those in power have their best interests at heart, Master Class is the book you’re looking for.

three-half-stars

About Christina Dalcher

Christina Dalcher earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from Georgetown University. She specializes in the phonetics of sound change in Italian and British dialects and has taught at universities in the United States, England, and the United Arab Emirates.

Her short stories and flash fiction appear in over one hundred journals worldwide. Recognitions include the Bath Flash Award’s Short List; nominations for The Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions; and multiple other awards. She teaches flash fiction as a member of the faculty at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, Virginia. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents Dalcher’s novels.

After spending several years abroad, most recently in Sri Lanka, Dalcher and her husband now split their time between the American South and Naples, Italy.
Her debut novel, VOX, will be published in August 2018 by Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House).

Review: THE GRACE YEAR by Kim Liggett

Review:  THE GRACE YEAR by Kim LiggettThe Grace Year by Kim Liggett
four-stars
Published by Wednesday Books on October 8, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GRACE YEAR Review

 

Kim Liggett’s The Grace Year is a dystopian novel that focuses on what happens when a group of sixteen-year-old girls are banished to a remote camp and forced to fend for themselves for a year.  Why? Because the society they live in believes that they all possess dangerous magic and must be purified before they are suitable to take their rightful place in society.  Sounds crazy and a little creepy, right?  Well, buckle up because that’s just the beginning of all of the craziness and creepiness that is to come if you pick up a copy of The Grace Year.

I want to start by talking about the world the story is set in.  The world of Granger County grabbed my attention right away. It’s a very dark place and has an almost Puritanical vibe to it.  The men are clearly in charge, while the women have no rights whatsoever.  This element of the story has a very Handmaid’s Tale feel to it.  The women’s role is to grow up, become wives, and bear children. Or if that isn’t an option, to go and work as laborers.  Females are also believed to possess a very dangerous and seductive kind of magic.  The men of the town believe that this magic must be driven from women of marriageable age before they can be suitable wives.  To accomplish this, the town has a ritual where all girls take part in a “grace year” when they turn sixteen.  They are all sent away to a remote camp where they must fend for themselves for an entire year.  The belief is that this is some kind of a purification ritual and the girls who survive it will come home ready to submit to their husbands or to a life of labor if that is their destiny.

Sounds like a fun place to live, right?  Yeah, the protagonist of the story, sixteen year old Tierney James, doesn’t think so either. The bulk of the story focuses on Tierney and how she thinks this whole patriarchal society is b.s. and has no interest whatsoever in becoming a wife or mother.  I loved Tierney right away, especially because her views about everything put her at odds with most of the people in Granger, including most of her fellow grace year girls.  A survival story always has its fair share of tension anyway, but the author ratchets it up a notch here by putting Tierney in the underdog role against all of these other girls that she is locked in with.

The author also effectively builds tension and suspense by having one of the rules of the ritual be that no one who makes it home from the camp is allowed to talk about what happened there.  Tierney and her fellow grace year girls have no idea what they’re walking into and I don’t want to say much about it either, so I’m going to leave it at this:  I’ve seen write-ups comparing The Grace Year to not only The Handmaid’s Tale, but also to Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games and I’m here to tell you that those comparisons are spot on!  What happened in there had me flying through the pages and wondering who, if anyone, was going to actually make it back home.

I’ve already mentioned that this is a dark world, as is to be expected in a dystopian read.  I just also want to quickly point out that I think the book is best geared towards older YA readers.  While there are some hopeful moments sprinkled throughout as I found myself cheering Tierney on to be one of the survivors, by and large, this is a violent, even gory, read and it tackles dark themes such as mental and physical abuse, suicide, and many others.  It’s not a read for the faint of heart.

Kim Liggett’s The Grace Year is one of those books that had me wanting to scream “Down with the Patriarchy!” the entire time I was reading it. If a dark but powerful tale of survival and resistance sounds like your cup of tea, you should give The Grace Year a try.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.

Girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, 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 their chance to grab one of the girls in order to make their fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.

four-stars

About Kim Liggett

Kim Liggett, originally from the rural midwest, moved to New York City to pursue a career in the arts. She’s the author of Blood and Salt, Heart of Ash, The Last Harvest (Bram Stoker Award Winner), The Unfortunates, and The Grace Year. Kim spends her free time studying tarot and scouring Manhattan for rare vials of perfume and the perfect egg white cocktail.