“No, we cannot change the mistakes we’ve left behind. But there’s one thing we can do—one thing I must do—we can choose not to repeat them.”
The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, and too many more to list: an increasing amount of twenty-first century YA fiction has been hallmarked by themes of dystopia. As light continues to be shed on the imperfections of our modernizing world, this increased amount of books can never fail to be of use. In her novel 5 to 1 Holly Bodger writes a brilliant new take on themes of dystopia and feminism, seamlessly blending the two and presenting them in an unprecedented way.
5 To 1 is set in the year 2054 in a place called Koyanagar, India. The population is such that for every five females, there exists only one male. The Revolution years ago restructured the city to be closed off from civilization, and government to be run solely by women. Because of this gender disproportionality women are revered as Gods, while men have been deemed worthless; so worthless, in fact, that they must compete in Tests to be awarded a wife, and their sole duty thereafter is to produce daughters. Failing the Tests means death, and failing to produce a daughter means a man is as good as dead. The novel, told in alternating points of view, follows Kiran as he competes for the honor of being Sudasa’s husband.
The most interesting facet of Bodger’s style is how she chose to tackle the male-versus-female point of view. The chapters narrated by Sudasa are written in poetry, while those told by Kiran are in prose. This dichotomy is integral to the novel’s theme. Poetry alludes to art; it is usually delicately crafted and beautiful, just as women are supposed to be. Much like men, prose is straightforward, blunt, and can lack depth. The alternating points of view also give an interesting look into the thoughts of both the oppressor and the oppressed; but who is truly who? Both sides lose—Men might be worthless, but women are commercialized and forced into relationships they don’t choose themselves. This is too rarely shown in dystopian novels—and it is so refreshing for readers to get the opportunity to see that. This choice in writing style alone highlights the discrepancy between men and women brilliantly.
I appreciated 5 to 1 much more than I liked it, but somehow that’s better. Books that highlight women with strong female leads are priceless in today’s world where far too women are stereotyped as weak and dispensable. What makes Bodger’s take on feminism unique is her choice in making women the oppressors. Unlike Katniss or Tris, Sadasa doesn’t rise up from a lower level to prove her enemies wrong; she exists among her enemies, and having the upper hand from the get go exemplifies a kind of reverse feminism that proves the point all the same. Thematically, it’s clear 5 to 1 is a winner. I’ll admit that the plot was a little dry. There was no love story, which I’m sure will turn many off, but I think too often love is thrown into storylines where it doesn’t belong solely to give it a new appeal; and it winds up harming the novel by cheapening it more than it helps. So in short, if you’re looking for a cut and dry dystopian, feminist story, 5 to 1 is the book for you.
Where our world today is not as severe as this one and others in fiction, it isn’t far off. There exists an issue of government. Issues of interpersonal relationships. Issues of oppression. Issues of feminism. Novels written to mirror these topics aren’t done so without deliberation. We write about what we can relate to. The increase of twenty-first century dystopian novels is so important, and we as a broken society must continue to spread and raise awareness for them. 5 to 1 has joined the list of Great Dystopian Stories, and it has done so deservedly.