Seriously, this book. I don’t even know how to begin trying to describe how I feel about 5 to 1. Let’s look at all the great points. It’s a super quick read that I powered through in one sitting. It has so much girl power but ultimately imparts the message that everyone is a human being deserving of respect, regardless of gender or anything else. There is absolutely ZERO romance. That’s right… none. I really liked both Sudasa and Kiran. It’s full of very important issues relevant to both India and the rest of the world…
And yet, the world-building is sketchy, the society poorly-conceived and the ending so… meh.
I think, given the importance of the issues lying beneath this fictional story, the lens was too narrow. The entire book spans a few days and barely steps outside the world of the “Tests”. No wonderful glimpses into a culture so rarely seen in YA, no rich world-building. So many missed opportunities.
The plot begins in the year 2054. After gender selection and female infanticide (a very real problem in India) caused a gender imbalance of 5 to 1 and girls became the target of rapists, the women of Koyanagar decided they could build a better society on their own. They erected a wall around their city and established a matriarchal society in which boys must compete in the Tests for a wife. Men are also deemed unfit for law, politics and medicine; they’re only purpose in life is to father daughters.
“Boys are taught only useful things. Things that will help them serve the women in Koyanagar.”
What the author basically does is reverse gender roles and circumstances – something which had the potential to be fascinating and powerful. However, while the drama of the Tests is compelling, a closer look reveals that this book is built on a very loose premise that only manages to hold up the novel because we are shown such a small amount of this world.
For one thing, how were these women simply able to seize a city and name themselves the leaders? That’s like me just deciding one day that I want to build a wall around my home town, declare myself president, and everyone just being all “well, this sucks, but better do as she says”. Sadly, that will never happen. Also, we are told that boys are no longer trusted but never told why. I understand how great an idea it is to reverse the gender roles in India and make girls more desired and the boys disposable, but without the whys and hows, it’s just an interesting concept that never evolves into a believable story.
It seems like I’ve been very negative but I did enjoy this book. It was told from two POVs – Sudasa in free verse and Kiran in prose – and I really liked both characters. They were strong, pleasingly rebellious, and I sympathized with both their situations. Oddly, I actually wouldn’t have minded a romance between the two of them. Bloody typical. But the lack of romance was a pleasant change. I feel like many authors build up the characterization of their male and female MCs through their romance with each other, whereas Sudasa and Kiran were interesting in their own right.
The ending kind of drifts off and I thought it seemed like a bit of a cop-out, but part of me wonders if the author has deliberately left it open for a potential second book. The many problems aside, if that is the case, then I’d like to read it.