I would love to hear what male readers think of FIRSTBORN - a book about gender roles, genocide, and honor.
In her latest novel, Lorie Ann Grover explores what it takes for a young woman to survive in a war-torn world where she has been forced to live as a male her entire life. In this society, when a couple's firstborn is a son, everyone rejoices; but when the firstborn is a daughter, she is left to die in the wild - that is, unless the parents choose to raise her as a male. If that is the case, they must enforce all of the gender-based rites upon her (him) as the child grows up. Though, thankfully, the child does not endure surgery at birth or thereafter, s/he is expected to suppress all feminine traits and to dress, act, and live as a male. The child must follow all gender-based rules and initiations, including serving their country for a year, and s/he will never be allowed to marry or have children.
Tiadone, the protagonist of FIRSTBORN, has accepted her fate without question. Or, at least, always keeping those questions and concerns to herself. She lost her mother in childbirth and was raised by her father, a man she truly loves and admires. When she is the age to undergo initiation and soldier on, she is happy that her best friend, Ratho, is by her side. But when their friendship - and Tiadone's heart - is tested, things are thrown into a whirlwind.
Luckily, Tiadone also has Mirko, a beautiful bird that grows with her. In this novel, all of the children are given an egg at birth which hatches shortly before their initiation and serves as a hybrid protector-confidant-partner until the human has completed their required time serving in the military and it is time for them to separate. With this relationship and connection, the rapion is similar to the dæmons in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, but without the shapeshifting or the speech. Instead, the winged ones communicate through gestures and movements, and they become extremely attuned to their person. While the other birds are silent, Mirko has the gift of song, which only sets Tiadone further apart from the others. Mirko is easily my favorite supporting character in the novel. Without ever uttering a word of English, he is able to communicate everything he needs to through a flick of his tail or a nod of his head, and it is clear that he understands every single word Tiadone says. He has a sassy streak that makes her laugh and he always encourages her to follow her heart and be brave.
Lorie Ann Grover has created a remarkable story. Tiadone's people, the R'tan, are governed by the Madronians, forced to follow their rules and share their beliefs, and this oppression parallels Tia's own. On her journey, which is just as emotional and internal as it is literal and physical, she pushes herself to the limit and embraces who she really is, inside and out, on her own terms. Tiadone often has to make incredibly hard decisions and sacrifices, leading to an ending I never would have predicted and which I absolutely celebrated. Those who enjoyed Grover's verse novels will find lovely surprises nestled within this prose novel, including, hopefully, the strength to spread their own wings and fly.
Bonus: Check out my playlist for the book!
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