Publication Date: May 12, 2015
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Reading Level: Young Adult
Pages: 224 (ARC)
Source: From Publisher For Review
In the year 2054, after decades of gender selection, India now has a ratio of five boys for every girl, making women an incredibly valuable commodity. Tired of marrying off their daughters to the highest bidder and determined to finally make marriage fair, the women who form the country of Koyanagar have instituted a series of tests so that every boy has the chance to win a wife.
Sudasa, though, doesn't want to be a wife, and Kiran, a boy forced to compete in the test to become her husband, has other plans as well. As the tests advance, Sudasa and Kiran thwart each other at every turn until they slowly realize that they just might want the same thing.
This beautiful, unique novel is told from alternating points of view-Sudasa's in verse and Kiran's in prose-allowing readers to experience both characters' pain and their brave struggle for hope.
The premise of this book caught my eye immediately, and I think because of this it will appeal to a ton of readers. A futuristic India where stereotypical and even archaic gender roles are reversed? Beyond interesting! This is a society where the men bow to women who rule their government and control wealth. I mean, granted, this is a super twisted government, but that's a given with any dystopian novel.
In Sudasa's world, men undergo the Tests in order to fight for a woman to marry. These tests test everything from intelligence to strength to the ability to be a husband so that young girls can find men who they believe will produce girls because producing girls is valued above all else. This novel takes place throughout the three day duration of the test, so it is very short and reads very quickly, but it also very interesting. I find this world to be unique and enticing, but because there's so little exploration of it the world-building is slightly spotty. If Bodger expanded on the novel's focus it would be easier to firmly grasp the world, but what I have understood so far appeals to me in its uniqueness.
Sudasa is a very interesting main character because despite being put in a position of power, she doesn't want it. Having a grandmother as a government figure means that she's more a puppet that pretends she has power when she has to follow everything her grandmother says. But Sudasa is fiery and she is in control of her own future, and she will not do what others expect of her if it will not help her. Plus, her part of the story is told in this beautiful verse that makes you want more and more of her mind. On the other hand, you have Kiran whose story is told in typical prose. He's one of the boys picked to compete for Sudasa and while he is the most able-bodied of them all, beating out Sudasa's terrible cousin that should not be in her test, he does not want to win because all he does is harbor dreams of escaping this oppressed society by sea to reunite with his mother that left before the gates to his city were sealed.
Through this short novel, they both grapple between the differences of right and wrong, about making difficult and potentially costly decisions about their futures, and about what it means to live in an oppressed society as both a valued and invaluable member. They touch on some really heavy topics in this seemingly light read.
The ending will appeal to some readers and frustrate others mostly because it is an open ending. You know Sudasa's final decision, but you don't know the outcome of it...what happens. If she is or is not happy, if her desires were achieved, if her plans were successful or not. The same goes for Kiran, really. I like this because I feel like the ending made a statement. Our main characters live in a society where they don't get to choose for themselves. They both made very strong choices for themselves and it is up to us as readers to decide how we think they are faring.
All in all, I found this book to be unique and entertaining. I wish that there was more bulk to the book and that I knew more about the world outside of the tests because the reversed gender roles were really interesting. Most of my issues with the book could be solved with a more in-depth sequel, though. This is a case of enjoyment that could have been absolute love if there was more detail, but I also understand the author's desire to limit the story to the tests. I'll keep an eye out for future works for sure. Bodger shows clear potential with this one!
FTC Disclaimer: I received no compensation of any kind in exchange for an honest review.