This book is feminist fiction, and, for me, held hints of The Handmaid’s Tale (though wasn’t quite as terrifying). It follows Maresi, a novice at the Red Abbey, and her new friend Jai, who has recently come to the island to escape her home. The Red Abbey is a refuge for women. No men are allowed on the island, and it is protected by the First Mother (Goddess). Many of the novices and sisters came there to seek asylum from abuse and mistreatment, and some come simply because their families cannot feed them. The book is written from Maresi’s point of view, as she recounts what happened when and after Jai arrived on the island.
At first, I felt like this book moved very slowly. It spent a lot of time setting up the action and havoc mentioned early on in the book, but not seen until about maybe three-quarters of the way through it. However, I enjoyed the getting there because it gave me a truer sense of what the Abbey really is, and how idyllic and utopian such a refuge could be. There were interesting characters from Maresi to Jai to a younger novice and the many sisters who inhabit the island and take charge of the novices. Their lives are simple, but well-lived, and it is a very important place in these women’s lives. When tragedy strikes, it hits hard. It wouldn’t have hurt as much, however, if the readers hadn’t been acquainted with the Abbey first.
As a character, Maresi is a strong one. She is wholly invested in learning all about the world around her, and her favorite pastime is to sneak into the library at the Abbey and read all about its history. Slowly, she comes to the realization that she cannot let books be her life, and it’s interesting to see what she does with that knowledge. Also, her friendships with the other novices play a very important part in this book. These girls support each other and form a family. I found it refreshing to have strong female friendships as the focus of the plot, with absolutely NO romantic subplot of any kind.
As I kept reading, I felt myself getting more and more sucked in to this world and these characters. Once I reached the half-way mark, I couldn’t put the book down until I was finished. I gasped, I cried, and I really enjoyed the telling of the story. As it gets into the more action-oriented parts of the story, beware that it doesn’t shy away from violence or rape (trigger warnings!). To me, though, that added a level of authenticity that not all YA novels have.
The only small criticism I have is that some of the transitions between sections were very abrupt. It could’ve been a lack of break formatting in my version (eArc from Netgalley), or it could’ve been the translation, but there were times where I flipped back on my Kindle to make sure I hadn’t missed something because I was a wee bit confused. That aside, I highly recommend this if you’re looking for a quick feminist YA read.
Note: I received this book from Netgalley & Amulet Books in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Thoughts?? Know any other great YA feminist reads?? Let me know in the comments below!