Thanks for joining me on an odyssey through the #YA10. I’ll be brutally honest about what I love and what I don’t enjoy so much about the ten books deemed worthy contenders for the only prize dedicated to UKYA. This is the third of my reviews.
Everyone says the Graces are witches. The three impossibly beautiful siblings are irresistible, and River wants – no, needs – to know them. To bask in their magic. To be with them. She’s just the misfit new girl with secrets, eating beans on toast in the library, but for some reason the Graces notice her. She is chosen, and feels like she has finally found her place in the world. The beautiful Graces are not quite what they seem… but then again, neither is River.
Friends, I read this book last spring and I was so disappointed. I thought it was shallow, indulgent, irritating. When I decided to reread it so I could write this review, I knew it would be a waste of my time. But, my blogger sensibilities said Go, you must review afresh (or something). So I reread it and… I kind of… really enjoyed it. I think I misjudged it the first time round, partly because it was marketed as The Secret History meets The Craft and I LOVE The Secret History. Largely, it’s because I didn’t realise River was meant to be a terrible person. It clicked for me last night: River isn’t Bella Swan, she’s Richard Papen!
Once you understand that River is pretty awful and an unreliable narrator, the whole book breaks free from its Twilight-esque plot shackles and becomes a deliciously hideous car crash of deeply flawed rich people doing bad things, which is my absolute favourite subgenre. Once you understand that the Graces have no power other than the myths they have built around themselves and that they have been born into, they are much more compelling and fragile characters. The Graces aren’t super special, they’re super messed up.
There are some problematic elements that need addressing: the girl-hate is like nails on a chalkboard, but it is just River being horrible. More troubling is the vein of homophobia that runs through the book unchecked, and especially the bisexuality representation which is not great. (Who’s sick of sexuality-as-plot-twist? Meee!) I absolutely understand that characters’ views are not necessarily condoned by the author, and, to reiterate, everyone in this book is horrible and it delights me, but there is a responsibility when writing for young people to handle these issues with a bit more sensitivity than we see here. Also, an Eastern European character is referred to as a Gypsy, and please can we not?
Aside from those issues, I really enjoyed The Graces this time round. The characters pontificate pretentiously about death and the true nature of self, and do pagan rituals, and drink tremendous amounts of alcohol. Some reviewers have criticised this as unrealistic, especially the pontificating, but to those people I say: did you never have a Goth phase? There is nothing unrealistic about a fifteen year old believing they have a unique perspective on the meaning of life. There is nothing unrealistic about a fifteen year old feeling like they can’t show the world their “true self”. Most teenagers can’t kill people with their thoughts, admittedly, and I am eternally grateful for that.
In conclusion this is a dark, weird book peopled by flawed characters, with a killer ending. I liked it quite a bit.