Firstborn by Lorie Ann Grover
Where does a firstborn girl fit in a world dominated by men?
My Thoughts:When Tiadone was born, her parents had two choices: leave their daughter outside the community to die in the wilds, or raise her as male and force her to suppress all feminine traits. Now, as the first female living as male in her village, Tiadone must prove her father didn’t make a mistake by letting her live.As her male initiation approaches, Tiadone knows every eye on the community is on her, and desperately wishes to belong and finally be accepted. But at every step, traditional feminine gifts and traits emerge, and the bird she's been twined with is seen as a sign of the devil.Worse, as Tiadone completes her rites, she finds she is drawn to her male best friend in ways that are very much in line with the female gender.Confused and desperate, Tiadone tries to become what she must be while dealing with what she indeed has become: a young woman who may be able to stand up to her despotic rulers and uncover her real purpose in life.
As soon as I saw this book in my BookSneeze email featuring reviewers' latest choices, I knew I wanted it. I was the first to request it -- the first day it was available. I mean, dystopian genre, made-up world, firstborn girl, story of girl power in male society... just seemed like my thing. Plus the whole bird thing looked intriguing.
And the story was that -- intriguing -- but it was also very, very confusing.
I've never heard of Lorie Ann Grover before this book, but I understand she has several other books out. Firstborn is her first book in a genre outside of contemporary fiction, and I think that's its main weakness. The world building is nice, but there's several everyday objects or clothing functions that resemble modern real life too much. Terms unique to this fictional world aren't explained, or are explained too late or too little for the reader to really understand what's going on. For example, the "twining" mentioned in relation to the bird in the back cover copy. When I read that on the cover, I thought it meant she had a birthmark or something. When the twining happened in the book, I didn't understand exactly what was going on or why it was important until a while after it occurred. So the meaning of that scene and its place in the plot was basically lost to me. The setup's a little confusing -- apparently the entire village knows Tia was born female and declared male, but it took me several chapters to figure that out. Based on how the book starts and what the back cover copy says, I thought her parents kept her gender a secret and claimed she really was a boy.
Plus, I understand Lorie Ann Grover is a Christian and is trying to carry that over to this made-up world in an original way, but the religion of this book was too weird for me. The birds started out cool, but some of the stuff that ties them to the people and their faith creeped me out. The whole male-dominance thing of Tia's people's oppressors was ridiculous, and that's sort-of touched on, but that was nothing compared to Tia's beliefs in her manhood and her amulet and all that. Her family's secret belief in one religion doesn't seem to mesh with Tia's clinging to the oppressors' superstitions. Actually, even religions aside, there were quite a few scenes I felt like shaking Tia and yelling at her. She was kind of clueless for such a "strong, girl power" type of character. Also, I thought this book would be about embracing womanhood, so I really hated all Tia's whining about being a girl. Yeah, considering the circumstances, it's not the most convenient. The girl has to hide it a lot, especially from the folks in charge. But you are a woman, Tiadone, and you should own it! Be proud! Quite griping already!
The plot was great. Very strong... Until stuff stopped making sense. Example: Tia accidentally found this sacred place, and burned her hands, and it was so obviously an important scene and had a lot to do with Tia's identity and purpose in life. But then the rest of the book continues like that never happened, and it's never explained! Hello, what just happened?
Also there was a lot of physical stuff in this book. I won't go into details. Basically, while it did pertain to the plot and Tia's inner struggle of gender and identity, I thought things got a little too much sometimes.
After all that bad, I feel like explaining. There's a lot of good in this book! Like the birds themselves. Their part in Tia's faith may have been weird, but as characters, the rapiers are really cool. Very sweet and original and basically I loved them. Tia's best friend was a great character too, even if I did spend several chapters hating him for being stupid. I mean, he's a guy and the best friend and sort-of-not-really the love interest. He was gonna do something majorly stupid eventually, but of course we readers would get over it. Once I got into the book and things finally started making sense, the world was pretty cool. Yeah, parts of it were a little too real-world-reliant, but the rest of it was actually really original. The culture was well-painted. (I could have done with a good deal more description -- especially pertaining to clothing and mentioned-but-not-explained hand gestures -- but the big picture was unique, at least.) Like I said earlier, at least the first half of the book was strong plot-wise. I think the rest of the plot was well-thought-out, too, it just wasn't explored or explained to the reader well enough for us to get it.
Basically, it's an okay book for someone's first foray into dystopian. I would have given it more work before sending it out into the world, but honestly, I think part of my issue was that this writing style just isn't my cup of tea. Readers who favor minimalist writing that focuses more on plot and character and leaves out description will probably like Firstborn. More than I did, at least. Two and a half stars.
I received a free copy of this book from BookSneeze in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.
A note to my lovely readers: I feel like my thoughts aren't well-composed here, but I'm not sure how to better state things. So I leave you my opinions here, as tangled as they are, and invite you to check out these other reviews that I agree with: The Book Barn and Christian Fiction Reviews.