Rummanah Aasi
 I have dystopian burnout. It is not that I dislike this subgenre, but I have read a slew of dystopian books that in someway or in another is Hunger Games deja vu promising another blockbuster. As a result I have become bored and weary of the category of  dystopian. When I read about Holly Bodger's debut novel I didn't know what to expect and lowered my expectations. I'm relieved to find 5 to 1 to be an engaging dystopian novel set in India that poignantly explores gender politics. Please note that this review is based on the advanced reader's copy of the book provided by the publisher via Netgalley.

Description: 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.
  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.


Review: In order to enjoy 5 to 1 there are few things you have to keep in mind. First 5 to 1 is what I call a soft dystopian, there is not an emphasis on the world that Bodger created which ironically  works in the author's favor because the book's basis is steeped in reality of gender politics. Second, the book is not your average heart pounding action book, the book moves steadily yet slowly focusing more on character development. Third, there is no romance in the book which allows the author to show how the gender selection effects each gender without any rose tinted glasses placed upon the characters. Additionally this debut novel is told in alternating points of view, one in poetry and one in prose. Once you settle and acknowledge these differences from the usual dystopian tropes, you can enjoy the book for its uniqueness and see where it shines.
  Bodger explores a dystopian India in which gender selection has led to there being five boys for every girl. In generations past boys were the favored gender of infants and as a result female infant population dramatically decreased as they were aborted and disposed of, signaling debt and burden for families (sadly, this is really happening in several parts of Asia). A revolution took place and a matriarchal government is now in power. Now female babies are prized possessions and men's value are determined if they can help their wives produce girls. The subversion of the gender roles and expectations is exceptionally well done in 5 to 1 from the characters to the various Tests that the boys have to pass. 
  Throughout her novel Bodger doesn't support just one gender, but rather shows how the gender selection has negatively effected both genders equally. Neither men nor women benefited from their society. Nor is one more in control than the other.  Interestingly they are equally oppressed, which can be seen in the narrative style of the novel. Kiran, the male narrative, is written in captivating prose, which allows much wordier passages however he is limited in expressing his own desires outside of winning the Tests which he is forced to participate due to his gender and age. Similarly the beautiful poetry of Sudasa is appropriately jarring and nuanced, showing how on the outside she  may seem as if she is in control because she is a girl, but her voice is also reduced in how she expresses herself and her limited freedom. Bodger does well in infusing the Indian culture and lifestyle in her work, but I would have liked to have seen more particularly within Sudasa's family dynamics. A glossary of Hindi terms would also be a great addition particularly those who are unfamiliar with the language.
 While the lack of romance in 5 to 1 may disappoint readers, I think it is one of the strong aspects of the book. The Tests are suppose to be pointless and unromantic. The more appropriate importance is placed on personal freedom and choice. During the Tests both Sudasa and Kiran have an epiphany of their own desires and both shamelessly pursue their dreams, which I would have loved to see in a more flushed out epilogue. Despite these minor flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed 5 to 1 and I look forward to see what Bodger has in stored for us in future books.  

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some mild crude humor in the book and minor language. Recommended for strong Grade 7 readers and up.


If you like this book try: Matched series by Ally Condie
6 Responses
  1. Kindlemom Says:

    I have seen a lot of really good reviews for this, even from those that don't like the genre so I'm definitely interested in it. I'm so glad even with your burnt out in the genre, you still really enjoyed this. Great review!


  2. I am glad to hear you enjoyed this one. I have been reading some solid reviews, and yours sold me. I must try it. Plus the cover is stunning.


  3. Oh sounds good. I do think I would love to read this one. I haven't been burnt out on dystopians yet. It's a good sign that you are and yet enjoyed this one.


  4. Aylee Says:

    Yup, I've been totally burnt out on dystopia for a while now too. Now this one, I definitely appreciate how unique it sounds - I didn't know about the poetry POVs. More than that though, I appreciate that it sounds like this one really doesn't follow the typical premise and tropes of most dystopians out there in the wake of The Hunger Games. I'm thinking I'll have to try this one now!


  5. I've never really been a dystopian fan and when I do read them, I prefer ones that are action-packed. It's probably why I avoided this one. I might have to change my mind though since it discusses gender politics so nicely.


  6. BrittanyL Says:

    I don't know the last dystopian I read. Definitely been along time since I've been in the mood for one.
    Great review! I wasn't really sure what to expect with this one. I didn't know it was told in prose and poetry. I like prose but am not a fan of poetry. So I'm really interested to pick it up and see how well I fare on that. The story sounds truly unique. Hopefully my library gets it soonish.
    Happy reading!
    Brittany


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