Expected Publication: May 12th by Knopf Books For Young Readers
Source: eARC from NetGalley
*I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion.
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, though, 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. 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.
5 to 1 definitely has a lot of buzz surrounding it as the world campaigns for more diversity in books, and I would definitely say that it delivers. (Though ultimately, I don't think I can speak for that.) Set in a futuristic India, 5 to 1 focuses on Sudasa Bala's Tests, as young boys are forced to compete for an assured future - one with a house, food, and a family. The alternative? Get assigned to a job that will most likely end in your death very quickly. Koyanagar, where women are essentially a precious commodity, has instituted this plan so that women can get the "best" husbands possible in a fair way, ones that will give them more girls for children. But as we quickly learn, there's nothing truly fair about these tests.
What's really interesting about 5 to 1 is that it doesn't seem entirely implausible. It's happened before, in our own world- getting rid of female children because what the family needs is a male and you can't care for both. What's happened in this instance is that a one child rule was placed on the people of India due to an ever increasing population. What resulted was a 5 to 1 ratio of males to females. Men got violent. They did whatever they could to get a female for themselves before somehow, women took back the control. This story is an incredible look into a fairly realistic future, and to a large degree, a realistic present.
However, considering 5 to 1 is a pretty short book, I didn't really get the world-building that I was looking for. The entire book takes place within three days and is 100% character-driven. They're fantastic characters, but I'm just of the mindset that I need to be immersed in the world, not just the characters and their struggles. I personally found it very hard to picture Koyanagar and am still very confused about its past, which is mainly presented in the form of some info-dumps within Kiran's prose.
"You'll be sent to the wall
and I'll be forced to live
with the burns from your noose
Oddly enough, I ended up liking the verse more than the prose. (I know a lot of people LOVE verse. It's just not usually my thing.) Maybe it's simply because I felt so much more for Sudasa. She really broke my heart. Her name literally means "obedience." She hates this competition just as much as Kiran, wants to stand up for herself, wants this all to be over. Reading her struggle was absolutely incredible. I wish I had the words to describe it, but I'm just not that talented. I can't even imagine being in Sudasa's position. She's so stuck in this world. Like I already said, my heart absolutely broke for her.
on my palms."
Kiran's chapters broke my heart, too, though to a lesser extent. It was mostly when he talked of his appa that I wanted to tear up. Kiran is all his appa has, and now Kiran's being forced to vie for a stranger's affection, and no matter what, he'll never get to see his appa again. SO MANY EMOTIONS, YOU GUYS.
"Sudasa's not a wishbone
you can break
I think the greatest thing about 5 to 1 for me personally, though, was that I learned. I learned a little more about a different culture that I'm pretty unfamiliar with, and I love Holly Bodger for that. At one point Sudasa mentions a few words I'd absolutely never heard before, so off I went to google - and I found myself reading about a famous Indian playwright. This is such a rarity in books these days.
to get your way"
5 to 1 has a perfect ending, if you ask me. It's not all tied up in nice pretty bows, which absolutely would not have fit with the story. And the best part is that through the entire book, I could not have told you what the end was going to be like. I may have had a few ideas, sure, but I was left guessing right until the end.
Overall: 5 to 1 is an incredibly powerful and diverse story about a culture that, for me, is quite unfamiliar. Its wrought with emotions and pain and the struggle to stand up for yourself. I found it a little lacking in the world-building area, but that's just a personal preference of mine, I think. 3.5 stars.