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. Contestant Five’s family wants him to escape by failing the tests. As the tests advance, Sudasa and Contestant 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. From Goodreads - but edited.
5 to 1 by Holly Bodger is a fantastic feminist YA novel that looks at how having one gender superior to another is no good for anyone.
In the not too distant future, things have changed in India. No longer happy with the worth placed on baby boys over baby girls, women of a certain area have revolted, and created their own country within India, Koyanagar. Here, women rule and men serve. Due to how things were before, when unborn girls were terminated, or girls who were born were abandoned, there are still far more males than females in Koyanagar - five boys to every girl. So when a girl turns 17, five contestants are chosen from the eligible boys of similar age, and they are to undergo tests to help the girl choose the best husband, who will help her produce healthy baby girls and who will serve her well. Sudasa doesn't agree with the system. Women rule, but to her, their is no choice. A woman must find a husband, and she can only choose from the five contestants, and her grandmother, one of the founding members of Koyanagar, seems to have more control over the "randomly" selected contestants than is legal. Sudasa just wants freedom and choice. Contestant Five has no interest in becoming a woman's lapdog and treated as nothing. He has his own plans. But when neither have much of a choice, who knows what the outcome will be?
Oh my god, this book was SO good! First up, I want to say I've edited the description above to remove Contestant Five's name. This is because we don't find out Contestant Five's name until close to the end of the book, and we're not told most of the others. This shows just how worthless men are considered in the society of this book, and I felt having his name in the description above took away from this point. His name is in the blurb of the book, so you'll still see it, but I think "Contestant Five", as each of his chapters are titled, is more affective.
I was absolutely gripped by 5 to 1! With Sudasa's chapters in verse, I absolutely flew through this book! Due to work I was unable to, but it could quite easily be read in a day. This future Indian country Bodger has created is so scary. The description of India as it was - as it is now, to a lesser degree, as Bodger tells us - is awful. The President of Koyanagar makes a speech before the tests, and in this speech, we discover how Koyanagar came to be, and why. Due to over population, a former prime minister f India said that people had to limit themselves to one child. But:
'"The citizens didn't want any child. [...] They wanted a child who could carry the family name, inherit the land. [...] They didn't want a child whose dowry would empty their safes to fill the pockets of another. They wanted a male child."' (p20)But after horrendous acts of gender selection, the country eventually had more boys than it did girls. Boys who needed wives, so they could have their own sons.
'"Suddenly a girl--any girl, even a poor, worthless one--could be sold to the highest bidder. And that's if she were lucky. Some girls were stolen out of their childhood beds. Others were raped, fated for ruin."' (p20-21)Horrific. And so Koyanagar was formed. The patriarchy was turned on it's head, and Koyanagar had a matriarchy. Better, right? Wrong.
As Sudasa tells us, her life is one without choice.
I think that's enough of a taster about the world Sudasa and Contestant Five live in. There's more, but I don't want to spoil the story too much. Either way, it's highly thought-provoking. Not just because of how terrible Koyanager is, but because it's set only 39 years in the future. When I'll be 67 - just let that sink in. A dystopia set in a future it's possible I - and you - will still be around to see. There's enough history given in this book to see that things could change so much, so drastically in such a short period of time. As shown in the link I shared above, Bodger made some exaggerations to the ratio, but it's still terrifying to realise this is something that could happen - in our own lifetimes.
I also love how with 5 to 1 Bodger is saying that there is no way but equality between men and women. Feminists aren't after superiority for women. This is a country where women are superior to men, and still, everyone but the rich and powerful suffer. A gender imbalance, either way, is not helpful to anyone. The only way to sort out problems like in Sudasa's India are for women, girls, females to be valued just as much as men, boys, males. Only when women are worth just as much as men, when we are all equal - not superior - will things even out.
5 to 1 is brilliant, but I did expect more when it came to the tests the boys had to go through. The tests themselves aren't that exciting. I was expecting more dangerous, harsher tests - as Sudasa says, the contestants risk death - but the risk comes from the outcome of the tests. A woman will choose a husband, and the ones who aren't chosen end up living a harsh existence, where death is likely to be in their immediate future, but I thought the tests were going to be more than they were. 5 to 1, only set over three days, is more about how unfair Koyanaga is in the opinions of Sudasa and Contestant 5, rather than from us seeing too much of how terrible it can be. It's more a book to get you thinking than to shock you through the events that are on the page. I would also have liked to see what Koyanagar - and the India before Koyanagar - thought about LGBTQ people and how they were treated, what their options were, but there was no mention at all, which I'm unhappy about.
But as I said, 5 to 1 is such an amazing story! A fantastic debut novel, and a wonderful book to get people to think about gender, feminism, and equality. I highly recommend it!
Thank you to Knopf Books for the bookseller reading copy.
Published: 12th May 2015
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Holly Bodger's Website