THOUGHTS OF A NIMA BOY: My early experiences in America and Kaya’s review of the grace year

Photo source: Facebook/Reader Maazi Okoro

Exactly a month today, I started a Masters in Communication and Journalism programme at the University of New Mexico. It has been a month of recalibration for my mind-set and readjusting of my soul-set. I was a late arrival because of visa issues back in Ghana, so there was no time to rest or relax when I touched down at Albuquerque International Sunport, the largest commercial airport in New Mexico.

I straightaway settled into work as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in charge of two classes which involved generation of content, its delivery and turning in grades as well as holding office hours for the numerous students who signed up for the Public Speaking Course (a university requirement). I also had to physically continue my academic work as a student (started it online back in Ghana) by completing the backlog of assignments I had missed for the first two weeks of the Fall 2021/2022 academic year.

I have settled in quite easily due to a few friendly and helpful African brothers (mostly Ghanaians) who took me in, eased up the complexity of the new environment and sped-up the acclimatising process for me. I have begun to make new friends, especially among my students who wonder at the sort of incredible energy and great gale of enthusiasm I come to class with (a few days ago, I was so engrossed in explaining a principle that I slipped and fell off my chair – and it generated a great deal of mirth and interesting gaiety in class).

I have also come to know one or two corners around town, did a transaction at the post office, took detours around town and neighboring cities, a long ride to the mountain, and walked to the local bookstore in the hood – where I had a hearty interaction with Laura, the old woman who runs the bookstore and radiates an inferno of passion and dedication to books, the value of life-long study and community development.

My activities were not only in the physical. I was very active on the virtual as well, sharing stuff to the outside world about the new things I am encountering, new environment and interactions and the usual online activities. I made new friends in America, too, online. I made a wonderful friend who confessed to being an ardent fan. What attracted me to her direct mail was her short profile – which described her as a writer, Pre-law, youtuber, model and a human rights advocate; which I found grandiose and impressive, considering the fact that she is just a score and few years on earth. Quite fascinating.

Our conversation centred around interests (reading, writing, stimulating minds, working hard to leave a dent in the universe and to live greatly, daringly far from a cowardly existence -and in the words of Henry David Thoreau, to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life). As the conversation deepened, it expanded to books, authors and their style of writing, book genres (she loves romance and I like biographies and books which tackle the heavy subjects of the world), and the conversation settled on a particular book that she had read and I later entreated her to write a review about.

The book is The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, a book that is described as dystopian and is about a young girl who dreamt of a better life beyond what her society had prepared for her and/or any girl of her age.  Goodreads described it as the book that “examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between”.  In order not to belabor the point, I invite Rukaya Adams who lives in Manhattan, one of the boroughs of New York, to tell us in her own wonderful style what the book entails.

Kaya Hamza

Described by many as a merging of The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, this is a bone-chilling story about a group of young girls sent into a secluded area to live for a year in a forest occupied by barbaric men who would do almost anything to cut them into pieces. Our main character, Tierney James, captures our attention with her willingness to take charge when needed and, most importantly, her ability to keep her wits about her in the direst situations.

Tierney grows up in a society where women are technically considered second-class citizens. They are marked (for their status) using a ribbon. White for girls below sixteen, red for the girls of an age to go into the forest, and black for the married women. These young girls are expected to endure a rite of passage, and upon their return are expected to marry the man chosen for them. If they fail (if they are not chosen to be a bride or die), they must surrender to a life of forced labour, or their siblings take their punishment (regardless of age) if their body is not found.

Either way, it is a lose-lose situation. Tierney, due to her strong convictions against living this life and the way she was raised by her father (learning medicine alongside him, learning repairs), is seen as a rebellious girl. This way of life as well as the society’s perception of Tierney forms the theme of the story. The incidents that follow are shocking. From watching the girls in Tierney’s year-group slowly lose their minds to forming unlikely friendships and finding unexpected romance and solidarity, this story is a whirlwind. One will need coffee and a strong stomach.

Tierney’s journey throughout the book, one finds, is relatable to most women. She is expected to be meek and submissive. These traits are believed to be useful in finding a good husband for girls in the society she lives in. She is leered at by older men, who make unwanted comments about her body – and this includes the local priest. Although the comments unnerve her, she stays resilient. However, her strong character does not exempt her from being prone to faults such as trusting the wrong people. It is her ability to overcome this and see the bigger picture that endears her to us.

The supporting characters leave a lasting impression on the reader as well. There’s Kiersten, who shows us the result of allowing one’s personal feelings to overcome them (which she should not be entirely blamed for, as she was also victim to a patriarchal society that had idealised a ‘good marriage’ and status as the goals for a woman). There are however however instances that she could be faulted for. She outs her former best-friend and later scalps her in the woods; and in her envy of Tierney creates a hard time for her by destroying equipment Tierney and the other girls made to satisfy her own motives.

Ryker illustrates that even the most heartless killers can have compassion, kindness and even love in him.  Ryker and Tierney’s relationship, although short-lived, is admirable as the reader sees new, vulnerable sides to them both. Ryker, despite his murderous ways, explains that he does it to be able to give his mother and sisters a better life. Out of all the characters, one might find Gertrude to be the most relatable. Although she wants change and shows that she is brave, she is afraid of taking the necessary steps. This is because she has had to endure so much bullying she is desperate for a way out. Desperate to be accepted again in society.

Kim Liggett ensures that there are some takeaways from the story. For instance, the dangers of a society that treats women as less-than. It enables those in power (in this case, men) to punish women based on accusations made by their husbands without any evidence. This is shown when a character is executed because her husband allegedly saw her ‘levitating’ while asleep. Liggett also shows us that even the worst character is not beyond redemption. Kiersten portrays this when she (despite her own faults), puts her personal feelings aside and alongside the other remaining girls backs Tierney when they return to the community so that Tierney is not harmed.

Stories have been told of strong, unyielding characters before, but none capture the experience with as much intensity and portrays the strength and beauty one finds in sisterhood as The Grace Year. Liggett is a force to be reckoned with.

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NB: The Writer is a Youth-Activist and a Student of Knowledge.






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