Friday, June 16, 2017

Book Review: The Button Girl

The Button Girl. Sally Apokedak. 2017. 394 pages. [Source: Review copy provided by author]

First sentence from the Prologue: REPENTANCE ATWATER STOOD BESIDE HER little sister, Comfort, studying the damp ground where all the mushrooms grew. 

Premise/plot: Repentance has always been taught to reverence Providence; from the time she was a girl she's been taught the will of Providence, taught to submit to the will of Providence no matter the personal cost. But Repentance is sixteen, and, she has a decision to make. Should she accept the status quo and button with Sober? If she does the first two boys they have will belong to the Overlord and become slaves. (For Repentance and Sober both live in a breeder village.) If she does not button with Sober, then she herself--and Sober--will become slaves, will be carted away from their families and SOLD. A happy ending seems impossible, no one that she knows has fought back, resisted, persevered and won against the Overlords. Should she be the first from Hot Springs to do so?

As you might have gathered, The Button Girl is a fantasy novel. I would say it is best for young adults and adults. Repentance herself is sixteen, but, the decisions she makes thrust her into a very adult world. A world where young women, especially attractive young women are sold as sex slaves. The book isn't just about sex slaves, though, but about slavery itself. The world in which Repentance and Sober live, slavery is a harsh reality--the way things are, the way things have been for over two hundred years.

My thoughts: I loved this one. I did. Here are just a few thoughts and opinions on why.

I loved the names. Repentance's full name is Repentance Joyous Forgiveness Abounding Atwater. And there is a story behind it.
It was largely supposed that Providence cursed her for the sin committed by her mother before her birth. And, truly, it must have been a terrible sin. What else would have required that her mother give her such a lengthy name? Repentance Joyous Forgiveness Abounding—it must have been a great sin for her mother to gush so over the forgiveness of it. The villagers didn’t think it forgiven, though. They assumed Providence had demanded payment from the mother by cursing the child. Why else, they wondered, would Repentance have such odd coloring? 
I loved the heroine. Repentance follows her heart. She may or may not always make the best decisions. But she always does what she thinks is right. She has a conscience and follows it no matter the cost. Repentance rarely does what is easy and convenient and comfortable. She chooses the harder, bumpier path; the path with more twists and turns and RISKS. She isn't doing it for the sake of more adventure and thrills however.
“I’m not really your merchandise, you know,” Repentance said, selecting another potato from the basket on the floor. “You can’t tell me what to think. What’s inside is the real me, and that’s between me and Providence. You can’t own that part.” Jadin burst out laughing. “You are welcome to your insides, Repentance. I cannot package and sell them. No man cares to buy the thoughts of a silly girl.”
I loved the hero. The young man who wants to button with Repentance is named Sober Marsh. Though many would conclude that Repentance was his last chance--his only chance--to avoid slavery, Sober insists that he deliberately chose--waited for, sought out--Repentance to his wife. Sober paid the purchase price for her. She was to be his. But she rebels. Though not against Sober personally. Her rejection is not of Sober as a man, as a husband, as a button-mate. Her rebellion is against the system, against the evil overlords who breed them for slaves. Sober Marsh may be one of my favorite heroes that I've met this year.
“Did it ever occur to you that I wasn’t trying to get buttoned the first four years?” Sober asked. “Did you stop to think that I might have been waiting for someone?” She took a swig from the canteen. Milky, frosty liquid ran down her parched throat. “Oh, that’s rich,” she whispered. “That’s rich? That’s all you have to say?” He turned his back to her and pulled the blanket up over his shoulder. Repentance took another drink. What was Sober carrying on about? Her heart gave a little trip and stumbled against her ribs. He’d waited for her?
I loved the romance. The pacing was just right. Sober's love for Repentance was constant, unconditional, sacrificial. His love wasn't dependent on her feelings or her actions. Even when she refused to button with Sober, even when her actions led to him being sold into slavery, he loved her still. He purchased Repentance twice. That's how much he loves her.
Sober turned to Repentance and said gently, “I do owe Mistress Merricc. She saved me when she bought me off the dock. I have to work to repay her the beads she spent on me.” “And now my family? Are you working to pay her for them, too?” His cheeks flushed. “I’m happy to do it, Repentance.” She nodded. “But we’ll be in Montphilo and you won’t be there with us.” He smiled. “Are you saying you’ll miss me?” “Of course she’ll miss you,” Lord Carrull said. “You’re her hero.” Hearing a noise, he turned toward the secret door. “Ah, Compassion, good. I’m guessing our guests would appreciate turns in the bathing rooms before bed.”
Repentance had to be wooed. She didn't comprehend how anyone could love someone else so deeply, so unconditionally, so loyally.
A memory tumbled through her mind unbidden. She did remember him. He dove from the waterfall into the pool below to save Ambivalence Bigrock. Repentance had been—what?—in her tenth year? So Sober had been in his fifteenth. Everyone in the village thought he was the bravest boy. And he was cute even then, with dark curls and dark eyes and that slightly crooked nose. So why hadn’t anyone buttoned him the following year? Or the one after that? She wasn’t sure she believed he’d been waiting for her. She wanted to believe, but no boy ever waited five years for a button mate. It was too dangerous. The girl you chose might die, for one thing. She’d half believed he’d made that story up to cover up whatever flaws the button girls had seen in him when they turned him down four years in a row. But now, with him sitting right next to her, she found it hard to believe anyone would find him flawed. He shifted a bit and his hip snuggled against hers. She scooted back, pressing herself up against the corner of the settee, but she couldn’t get away from him. He was so big and so near. She bit her lip. What had she been thinking about? Oh, yes, his flaws. He hadn’t any.
He looked confused. “Of course I love you. Was that ever in question?’ “So you’re not having a joke on me? You really were waiting for me all those years?” He looked shocked. “How many times must I say it?” “I don’t understand why you would do that. You didn’t even know me. We’d not spoken more than a few words before that trip up the mountain.” “I loved you all the same,” he looked at her, his face flushed and his eyes bright. “I’ve loved you since the day I saw you in the swamp picking persimmons for Comfort, when everyone was saying your mother wasn’t right in the head. I heard you singing to Comfort and telling her you’d never let anyone take her away. I wanted to protect you. That’s why I put the bunches of swamp bananas on the ground every week just at the time you were out with Comfort looking for breakfast. And the berries and nuts. Didn’t you ever wonder why the squirrels loved you so much that they left you mounds of berries in the summer and nuts in the winter?” She laughed. “You? I used to thank Providence for all that food. I thought he knocked those bananas out of the trees for us.” “No, that would have bruised them. He made me crazy in love with you so I climbed the trees and carried the bananas down and gently laid them on the ground for you.” Repentance blushed. He was crazy in love. She was overwhelmed. She never knew. And even after she caused him so much pain, he still loved her. She swiped at the stray tears that slipped down her face. “And here I was afraid you might want to button with Generosity.” 
Even when Repentance was "unworthy" and "undeserving" of his love. Sober loved without reserve.

I loved the writing and the storytelling. I loved the buttoning vows.
With my heart I’ll love you, With my hands I’ll serve you, By your side, I’ll abide, forever and always.
With my heart, I’ll hold you, With my arms, enfold you, Beside you, I’ll guide you, for now and for always.
It is a fantasy novel, and it did involve a lot of world-building. It has biblical themes in it certainly, but, it isn't a true allegory or parable. I loved that one of the themes was forgiveness and love.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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