“5 to 1” by Holly Badger (2015)
Genre: YA, Fiction, Dystopia
Page Length: 244 pages (hardcover edition)
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 Contestant Five, 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. Five’s family wants him to escape by failing the tests. As the tests advance, Sudasa and Five 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 Contestant Five’s in prose—allowing readers to experience both characters’ pain and their brave struggle for hope. (description from Goodreads)
WARNING! SOME SPOILERS!!!
5 to 1 has an interesting concept that reintroduces readers to a dystopian universe where the government rules with a mighty fist, girls are valued as fragile jewels, and arranged marriages reign. While this storyline has been done many times before in the YA genre, this novel sets itself apart from others in the fact that it presents itself in a new setting.
I appreciated that this novel was set in a futuristic India (a place I’ve always wanted to visit) and that Badger uses this familiar story trope to shine a light on a foreign landscape that features characters of color. Though I was excited to read about the landscape, the book was lacking in details of the setting (for me) and because of that I felt that I couldn’t fully immerse myself in the story. I felt I was just skimming the surface.
The two main characters, Kiran and Sudasa, are likable and you can really sympathize with their plight. The two don’t want to follow their gender roles in society what the government says is the best for the people, but they don’t seem to put up more of a fight until the end. And the disappointing thing about that is that’s exactly where the story cuts off. I was expecting a more climatic ending, and it fell a bit flat for me. Maybe it’s a more of a realistic ending, because every dystopian book can’t have a Hunger Games uprising, but I felt let down for all the action to suddenly build up and to have the story stop at that exact point.
I did love that this novel’s protagonist, Sudasa, takes such a feminist and powerful stance to tell society and her family that she doesn’t want to get married and if she did she would be the one to choose her husband. I liked that she was fierce and didn’t take no for an answer. Most of all she gets the courage to stand up to a bully, her Nani, who tries to bend Sudasa to her will by using her money and power.
Overall 5 to 1 has a smooth plot that is entertaining, but fails to dig deeper. The book seems like it’s missing quite a lot of the story because many things are glossed over and as a result there are missing pieces here and there. I think it would have been great if Badger expanded the novel (there doesn’t necessarily have to be a sequel), and write about what happens beyond the wall and further develop her characters and story line.