Grace by Elizabeth Scott
Grace was raised to be an Angel, a herald of death by suicide bomb. But she refuses to die for the cause, and now Grace is on the run, daring to dream of freedom. In search of a border she may never reach, she travels among malevolent soldiers on a decrepit train crawling through the desert. Accompanied by the mysterious Kerr, Grace struggles to be invisible, but the fear of discovery looms large as she recalls the history and events that delivered her uncertain fate.
Told in spare, powerful prose by acclaimed author Elizabeth Scott, this tale of a dystopian near future will haunt readers long after they've reached the final page.
One sentence sum-up: the story of a suicide bomber who decides she wants to live.
My reaction: The one word that keeps coming to mind to describe Grace: intense. It's a short book in word count, but crammed with emotion and questions of morality. Scott does an amazing job of portraying the mindset of someone raised to be a suicide bomber, and the tensions between two warring groups, without specifying where this book is set. It takes place in the future, yes, but in a manner of speaking it's timeless; we can see many aspects of Scott's fictional world in the current situation in the Middle East. There are no easy answers as to who is "right" in the battle – the ruthless dictator who will stop at nothing to keep power, or the brainwashed cult members who are convinced their death is worth it if it means the death of others as well.
Best aspect: the nuanced complexity brought to the two main characters. Let's face it: the protagonist Grace isn't very nice. She's been raised to believe her destiny is death, and though she herself is decidedly determined to keep living, she doesn't think twice about anyone else. Grace makes no qualms about the fact that she's looking out for numero uno. And yet, somehow, Scott makes it possible for the reader to connect with her, sympathize with and even root for her. She's done plenty of wrong, but then, she's had plenty of wrong done to her as well. It's so astonishingly obvious that both groups are committing atrocious crimes that it becomes easier for the reader to cheer on Grace to escape their clutches, despite her own reasons for guilt.
Kerr, the man accompanying her on her escape journey, is equally multi-faceted. He comes across as brusque and uncaring at first, but he and Grace begin to open up to each other along the way. Watching them share their stories and realize that they understand one another better than they originally thought is a treat. Neither of them has really had another person like that in their life before.
If I could change something... I was really fascinated by the dynamics of the social setting, and I wanted to know more about how Keran Berj rose to power, and how these two races came to be living side-by-side and warring with each other. More information about the cultlike tendencies of both groups would have been fantastic as well, although through Grace's flashbacks we do get a glimpse into how the People operate. I also would have liked to have seen a bit more of Grace's earlier perspective, growing up with the People, before she goes to perform her "calling." And I was always a bit unsure of where Chris fit into the scheme of things.
Although most of her inner monologue felt spot-on, I thought a few of Grace's realizations towards the end happened too suddenly to be believable, seeming a bit forced and preachy.
Also, regarding the ending (very spoilery, highlight to read): I am generally not a fan of ambiguous endings, and after all the tension on the train as they got closer and closer to the destination, I was hoping for a more dramatic ending. This one was too abrupt and anti-climactic for my taste, leaving it feeling kind of unfinished. I did enjoy, though, the tenuous trust formed between Jerusha and Grace that is clearly crystallized at the very end.
In five words or less: hard-hitting, thought-provoking, character-driven
The blast would have killed me had I stayed with the bomb by the stage. I would have been tossed up into the air as bits of bone and ash so fine I would have fallen like rain, scattered like the words of a prayer.
Instead, I stayed standing. Breathing.
I can still see the fire the bomb created. It was so strong, so angry. It hissed and popped and roared as it moved. As it grew.
Do not read if: you are looking for a light, fluffy, insubstantial, or feel-good read.
Do read if: you want to be impacted and challenged.
Final verdict: 4 shooting stars.
Author's website: http://www.elizabethwrites.com/