Wren and her companions live in a beautiful utopian world where pleasure is the highest value. Dot has made all creation good and beautiful, and she’s left instructions for how to live. When strange flashes of another life begin plaguing Wren, she tries to hold on to Dot’s ways and be happy. But as piece after piece of her perfect world begin to crumble, Wren finds it harder and harder to believe.
At first glance, this is definitely a different book. The idea of reading a utopian story really appealed to me, and I think Badger really delivered on that idea. Of course we’re suspicious of the perfect world right from the start, but even that works for the story. In some ways the suspicion which is so well-voiced by Blaze is really what propels the story forward.
The most powerful moment comes when Wren is faced with the knowledge that what she’s believed to be true is based on lies. She must decide if she’s strong enough to pursue the truth or if she can allow herself to be lulled back into ignorance. Can she be happy if she knows it’s all fake? Badger captures the unraveling of the pure dystopian world, juxtaposing Wren’s breakdown against the echoes of bliss still experienced by other characters, revealing the truth in an almost horrifying clarity worthy of big league sci-fi writers.
Readers who enjoy Ursula K. LeGuin (particularly The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas) should absolutely give State of Grace a read.
Characters are encouraged to have sex (referred to as hooking up) as often as they want with whomever they want, as long as it’s not with the same person twice (some couples choose same sex, others choose opposite sex. Anything goes.) In the Books of Dot, pleasure and fun are the highest values.
A boy uses Dot’s principles to manipulate girls into having sex with him. There aren’t a lot of details given. Wren recognizes that there’s something wrong with this, but isn’t immediately able to pinpoint what.
Other hooking up scenes aren’t described either. Wren does refer to the boys’ “willies” and the girls’ “tatas” here and there. Clothing is also optional.
There’s a brief reference to a porn site and a nudist colony.
Characters worship Dot as their creator. She is an all-knowing goddess who left instructions within several books. One character claims to hear Dot’s voice. Each character is required to fill a bag with a special fruit as an offering to Dot each day. (See below for more information that includes a spoiler.)
A boy slits the neck of a deer and guts it. It’s a bit gruesome, which is kind of the point the author is making. A boy’s neck is cut later. There are some flashbacks which include information about a boy beating someone to death.
A boy encourages a girl to take prescription drugs and smoke cigarettes with him.
(Spiritual Content continued) Wren learns that everything she believed about Dot has been made up. She’s frustrated and angry, but also a bit relieved, because it was getting a little Lord of the Flies there for a while. At the end of the book she reflects on the difference between her earlier life and the present. She knows that anyone who has died isn’t out there with Dot. They simply don’t exist anymore. She has zero faith, and that’s implied to be this very superior experience.
Given her earlier time, it’s understandable that faith has left her with this strong aversion and that she’s chosen not to believe anything like that anymore, but some readers may be bothered by the implication that atheism is a superior way to live.