Original. Diverse. Dystopian. Gorgeous. Holly Bodger’s debut novel 5 to 1 is stunning. STUNNING.
The year is 2054, and India has a population problem. Specifically, after decades of a one child policy that favoured boys over girls, there are five boys to every one girl. Girls are now a hot commodity, and they have the power.
Woman, tired of selling off their daughters to the highest bidder, have seized control of the city of Koyanagar, surrounded it by a wall, and now make the men compete in Tests to earn a wife. The fate of those who lose the Tests is kept vague.
The story is told from alternating perspectives, and alternating genres (free verse and prose! Gorgeous!). Sudasa is 15 years old, and has come of age to choose her husband. She doesn’t want one. Kiran, contestant 5, is almost 18, and has been selected as a contestant in the Tests, competing for the opportunity to marry Sudasa and escape a life of poverty for one of privilege. He doesn’t want her, he wants freedom. As they try to outsmart each other at every twist and turn, it becomes apparent that maybe they do want the same thing, it’s just not each other.
I wasn’t sure that Sudasa’s story would develop well, as it is told in verse. Little did I know. Her personality, her character were so rich and vivid, she could have been standing in front of me and telling me her story herself.
This is not a love story. There is no romance. It is a tale of two people fighting, separately, for a chance to live lives and destinies of their own choosing.
The world building in this novel was really interesting. Women grabbing control and forming government and essentially turning men into chattel sounds empowering, but as you read deeper into the story, it becomes apparent that the evils of the past are not that far behind, and, in fact, are being repeated.
For a dystopian novel, this one does not rely on sci-fi or fantasy, as so many do. Bodger’s use of Indian language and place names, along with the real problem of over-population, make this an eerily plausible story. Would men sit idly by and watch as women took control of city and sealed it off? I doubt it. But that small implausibility does not make the rest of the novel less gripping.
If you are ever going to judge a book by it’s cover, this is the one. What a heartstopping jacket. Based on that alone, pick this book up.
This is an easy read, one sitting, but you will want to return to it and reread it and soak in the words. It is appropriate for all teens.
5 to 1 is published by Knopf Books for Young Readers.