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Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher provided for review
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In the year 2054, after decades of gender selection, India now has a ratio of five boys for every girl, making women an incredibly valuable commodity. Tired of marrying off their daughters to the highest bidder and determined to finally make marriage fair, the women who form the country of Koyanagar have instituted a series of tests so that every boy has the chance to win a wife.5 to 1 is rather a wonderful book. You'd think in its brevity that it'd lose some of its power, or that the alternating perspectives (between verse and prose, too) would get frustrating or feel more like a gimmick than a tool. None of that is true. 5 to 1 doesn't need anything else to make it exceptional.
Sudasa doesn’t want to be a wife, and Kiran, a boy forced to compete in the test to become her husband, has other plans as well. Sudasa’s family wants nothing more than for their daughter to do the right thing and pick a husband who will keep her comfortable—and caged. Kiran’s family wants him to escape by failing the tests. As the tests advance, Sudasa and Kiran thwart each other at every turn until they slowly realize that they just might want the same thing.
This beautiful, unique novel is told from alternating points of view—Sudasa’s in verse and Kiran’s in prose—allowing readers to experience both characters’ pain and their brave struggle for hope.
In Koyanagar, a city in India walled away from the rest of the country, women are prized above all else while men are valued only in their ability to give their wives daughters. The boys are selected as husbands through a series of tests, and it's Sudasa's turn in the three days over which the book takes place. Sudasa is in a tough place, because she desperately wishes to make her own decisions, but her grandmother is forcing her hand in skewing the tests toward her cousin, while the boy she would choose, Contestant Five, makes it clear her doesn't want to be chosen. As the tests go on, Sudasa comes to find that maybe she isn't as stuck as she thinks she is. Maybe she can make a decision she never thought of before.
While I think the scope of the book is very narrow and would have liked to see a lot more, I think the effect of the world is still strong. You don't have to have a bunch of details to get the message. There's very obviously a lot of emphasis on the importance of women, but 5 to 1 focuses more on the idea that everyone is of value, that your gender makes no difference.
And the mixing of verse and prose is wonderful. Obviously, it gives Sudasa and Contestant Five (he has a name, but I like not spoiling it for you!) very distinct voices, but they'd have those no matter what. Their intents are similar--getting away from those who wish to control them--but their lives have been so different that their motivations, thoughts, and actions are very dissimilar. It's a very cool juxtaposition.
5 to 1 is powerful because of its simplicity. Because of its brevity. Because of its message. This is definitely a book I'll remember for a long time.
HOLLY BODGER has a BA in English Literature and has spent her entire career in publishing. She is an active member of RWA and is a 2013 Golden Heart finalist in the Young Adult category. She lives in Ottawa, Canada.