March 25, 2014

Firstborn by Lorie Ann Grover

"Tiadone, remember the Mandronians believe the first living child carries the greatest strength. Can you imagine them permitting a girl to  have that power in a conquered village, or that they'd allow a family to offer only females to society?" [Father] holds his hand up to keep me from cutting into his speech. "And we can be thankful they offer us the chance to declare our firstborn girls male to avoid ekthesis on the Scree." 
-from Firstborn by Lorie Ann Grover

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 I received a complimentary copy of this book from Book Look in exchange for an honest review

Lorie Ann Grover's novel Firstborn tackles the very serious issue of gendercide through the ever popular dystopian genre. Tiadone is a teenage girl who has publicly taken on the identity of a male; her widowed father chose for her to live as a declared male to escape her death at birth. With the protection of an amulet that's supposed to squash her female tendencies, Tiadone must face the next stage of her life under terrifying Mandronian rule patrolling the Perimeter to protect where she lives. But with prejudice already coming from her in all directions and her amulet not working as planned, Tiadone must find her identity in a world that refuses to accept her or find a way out.

The premise of this book sounded so exciting to me, but the execution just did not hit the mark. However, I will note that I can see this being someone's favorite book, just not mine. My biggest complaint was how slow and complicated this story starts out. The world-building was weak for me because there was far too much information to digest and new vocabulary that made everything confusing. Just when I thought I had a grasp, I would be introduced to something new that threw me. There also wasn't enough hope in this world and I didn't feel  hopeful as a reader. Some might enjoy the world created in this book, but for me it wasn't interesting enough to keep me wanting to sort out the details.

Similarly, the story was made even slower by its very short chapters that contributed to the pace feeling clipped. Not much happens among the pages of a 2-page chapter and that frustrated me. Another factor that made the pacing slow is the formal dialogue. I didn't feel that these characters were real. At times I didn't know if this was a middle school aged book or a YA book; the writing feels middle school but the content feels like it's suitable for readers much older.

Finally, I didn't feel that the themes and symbolism really worked. This is a book about gendercide, but I had to read so much before anything happened that made me feel like it was commenting on this subject. If this is meant to be for middle school readers then I think it's fine, but I don't like that I have to question that. Similarly, this book is published by Blink, an imprint of Zondervan, so I was anticipating heavy Christian themes. The biggest religious theme I could gather was very anti-Catholic as the evil Mandronians have priests and force everyone to eat wafers and juice. I just really didn't think that was "Christian" to slam another sect; and if this wasn't a jab at Catholics, then the wafer and juice reference was extremely misleading.

What I did enjoy about this story is that it's unique. I don't think my complaints will hold true to every reader, you might enjoy the world-building and be able to find your own connections. I like that this book went outside the box and even though it wasn't my favorite story, I can respect and understand why it might be yours. The ending was somewhat satisfying but too little too late for me.

Bottom Line: It wasn't my cup of tea, but it will still a fresh enough story that I wouldn't be surprised if someone else tells me they love it. Might be a better dystopian for younger readers to build ideas about gender equality and focus on reading comprehension by digesting this new world. 3/5 stars.

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