5 to 1 (Holly Bodger)

This was unexpectedly a really good read.

It’s 2054. The town of Koyanagar have split from the rest of the world, erected walls to keep themselves in and the world out. In this town, girls are hailed. Due to female infanticide in the past, girls are now a luxury to have. 7 boys have to compete against each other in 7 tests for a girl’s hand in marriage. Only one will be chosen, the rest will never get married, will either die or work till death. And only girl babies are wanted. Having daughters is economical and lucrative in this town where only females get the best jobs and earn the most.

So we have a reversal of roles is basically what the premise is.

Until you realise past and present (2054), is all the same. People are still trash.

Hah.

We have quite a few characters in this short 244 page book. It’s actually really short because the girl, Sudasa’s point of view, is written in free verse. The boy’s, Contestant Number Five, is written in prose. Sudasa does not want to marry any of her suitors and Contestant Number Five does not even want to play in this sick game.

The society is messed up.

Despite the book being short, I found the character development to be spot on. Our main leads are smart, strong, witty and also very humane. Very easy to relate to. The people surrounding our main characters are pretty archetypical, the hard-ass (grandma) who wants to follow the system, the resigned-to-fate (sister) who acts like she’s happy with her marriage etc. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing, it gets the story going.

The world-building, not much there. As in, I just have one question. How in the world did the people of Koyanagar think their rules make sense? I mean, it really is just a reversal. Now you’re prizing girl babies. So in time to come, there’s going to be a shortage of boys…… no? By the end of it, spoiler alert, it feels like the people (the women in power) knew what they were doing. I think their main intention was just revenge. It never was to right any wrongs, to make things better.

Anyway, let’s get to the writing. Holy nuggets. There are some verses that are just amazing. All the verses are good and some just blew me away.

Context for the following verse: Sudasa’s looking for a sister who has ran away after leaving a note and Sudasa believes the sister is running into a trap.

I unfold the page,

and my eyes race to the end

as if their speed

can catch her words

before they come true

And just as how the verses are good, so is the prose. Contestant number five is snarky but oh so lovable as he fights within himself to do the right thing vs to do what’s right for him.

I appreciate that the book is short. I don’t know how it would have held up if it were any longer. The town came to be about from the fact that when the country was overpopulated with boys, violence started to terrorise the streets. The few women left for men to marry turned men against each other. Only the rich and the brutal could marry. So this town wanted to give every man a fair chance at winning the hand of a girl.

Only…. the Tests aren’t so fair.

But see… The people with the weapons in this town are the men (who are guarding the walls) which makes you wonder how on earth it’s still the women in power, how there hasn’t been a single assassination attempt in thirteen years since the gates of this town was closed off to the rest of the world.

But whatever. I’ll let it slide because the story of this book isn’t in the world-building, it’s in the anarchy of these two characters who have been made to do things just because of their gender. I appreciate this book for the perspective that prizing someone for their gender is just ridiculous AF.

But it’s Contestant One’s role in this story that leaves a sour taste in my mouth. He’s proof enough to show that even though women may be in power, patriarchy is still strong and he’s going to be a douchebag. I don’t know what One’s purpose in this book is supposed to be. Is it that some men will find a way to be trash no matter what? HAHAHAH. Because ultimately this is a role reversal book, but leopard spots, you know what they say. I might be off.

It’s a fast paced-book albeit the beginning starts a little iffy. The first three chapters are in free verse and so the world is slowly being built in verse form. But once we get to chapter four (page 17), to Contestant Five’s prose perspective, things start heating up and you start to understand the flow.

Looking at Goodreads reviews now.

  • world building is insufficient. True. If you start looking at the flaws of this world, there might be more than a few to pick out. But it’s a short book and I find the emphasis on the characters’ rebellion against gender-based rules.
  • world doesn’t seem realistic. I’m on the fence with this one. I think the town makes sense. People came to this town because they wanted men to have a fair chance at getting married and having a family. But the women in power at Koyanagar are kind of fcuked up as politicians usually may be – or even if not the politician, there are some conniving idiots who make things a little less fair. My issue with the world is that I just don’t think it’s sustainable – given the fact that the unfairness seems very blatantly obvious. But meh. This book mostly talks about the struggles these Sudasa and Contestant Five are facing and how they end up having to depend on each other if they want to have any chances of living a life in their own discretion.
  • characters fall flat. Well. I can see why they might but I don’t necessarily agree. Sudasa’s point of view is in verse form. We don’t get a whole lot of her but the basics of her desires and her obstacles. We get to understand Contestant Number Five better, he and his morals and his desires. They both make an interesting pair. Both fighting against the corrupt system as much as they can in their own way. The side characters – the hardass, the resigned-to-fate, etc – are fine. We get to see what made them the way they are, a little here, a little there. I won’t say this is a character-driven story. It’s not about why people are doing the things they do. It’s more about actions and consequences and how our leads are trying to make these consequences as favourable to themselves as possible. So any character info dump is basically just like an FYI rather than anything. And it’s good that they’re short dumps. I’m tired of reading about people who make excuses for their behaviours. Just get on with it. If you’re trash, you’re trash. The character development – or the lack thereof- to me was fine cause I’m hooked for the way both our leads are fighting against the oppression.

All in all, this is not a romance story, not a dystopian world. It is a story of respecting and rebelling and I am here for it.

Pick it up.

  • if you’re into verse.
  • if you want a short, quick read.
  • if you want to know Contestant Number Five’s real name. Hah.

Might I just add, I just checked out the author who does not seem to be of Indian origin and I must say, I’m impressed given the vocabulary of Indian origin words in this book.

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