5 to 1 by Holly Bodger

5 to 1

4 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this work

I am not a huge fan of poetry. I find it hard to read and most of it takes forever to say something that could have been done in a much more straightforward manner using prose. Needless to say I had not realized that large parts of this work were going to be done in poetry. I should probably read book descriptions more closely.

In this case I was too excited over this book to stop though, so I thought I would at least give it a try. India, thanks to years of gender-selected abortions and female child abandonment, has reached a point where there are 5 men to each woman, and suddenly it is the girls who are precious beyond belief to their parents.

Sudasa’s portion of the country has decided to guard its most valuable resource, its girls, by building a giant wall around their land, forcing the boys to compete for the chance to marry and sending the losers to guard the wall. It is now Sudasa’s year to have a group of boys compete to be her husband in a series of tests. One of the contestants is her cousin, an arrogant, rich boy her controlling grandmother is rooting for (and snuck into the contest). Another contestant is the poor Kiran, who is not at all interested in her and the lifestyle she can offer him. He is the most attractive candidate though, and the only one who can possibly beat her cousin. Sudasa and Kiran must quickly decide what they mean to each other and what they are willing to sacrifice to keep the other safe.

The first stylistic note is that all of Sudasa’s chapters are written in verse and all of Kiran’s are in prose. This reflects a difference in education mostly, but also lets the difference in their voices come through more clearly. Sudasa has been given the best access to education and culture, while Kiran is lucky to know how to read, so Sudasa knows poetry in a way that Kiran does not. It also shows a difference in personality and expectations. Sudasa is a bit more passive at the start of the book. She does not like the way things are run, but is too scared to try and rebel completely, so she speaks in a more limited, but refined way. She has to be delicate and cultured because she is a girl. Kiran is able to speak more directly and bluntly because he is expected to be more aggressive. He is also a more active character, he is planning escape at the very beginning of the book.

I really wish this book had been a lot longer. The page length is already shorter than normal for a YA book, and a lot of pages have lower word counts because of the poetry. The entire novel is set during the couple of days of the test, but it would have been wonderful to see more of Sudasa’s and Kiran’s childhoods in this weird society, and more of the world itself. It read a lot like a short story or novella, and there is so much more I want to know about these characters and their realities. I love that Bodger took the issue of India’s missing girls on, but I want more from her. Maybe a sequel?

This is a very topical read, and could be used very effectively in a classroom setting. It is short, contains both poetry and prose, and is attention-grabbing. I am just disappointed that Bodger left the ending so unfinished and the world so unexplored. She has a great premise here.

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