So, Goodreads and I are at an impasse. It asks for a rating, and I refuse to give one. And it’s not due to a failure on the book’s behalf to elicit a response - in fact the opposite is true. I just don’t think I can translate that response into a quantifiable form. This is unusual work with a striking premise. Grace, raised to be a suicide bomber, is fleeing her unnamed country ruled by the despot Keran Berj. In the company of a mysterious escort, Kerr, she is bound for the border with a single chance at freedom. If you’re already familiar with Elizabeth’s Scott’s spare, efficient prose – you’ll notice that in Grace she takes it even further, paring the words back to the bone. Yet none of the power of the prose is lost in stripping it down so dramatically, instead it seems to gain strength from its economy. Scott never completely spells out the full extent of the violence, sex and fear of her world, but the oblique inferences still permeate the story with a sense of bleakness and menace. Grace herself, raised by freedom fighters yet spurned for her mixed heritage, is a complex character that embodies the book’s central themes of choice and survival. All of the choices Grace makes have a cost, the thread of hope she holds comes at a price. Any decision she makes will involve sacrifice, life bought with the taking of others. ”I have spent my whole life waiting to die. Not wanting to, but waiting. I saw the difference the day I walked away, and this train ride has taught me that I will do anything to survive.[…] And I am not, and will not ever be, sorry that I am.” Scott allows the story to retain its moral ambiguity throughout, and refrains from having the characters pontificate on the rightness or wrongness of their actions. Both of these people carry a burden of bloodguilt, and have been raised to rationalise their choices, yet the story isn’t told in a manner that demands the reader to find them defensible. It does, however, ask the reader to consider whether such a person is defined by their past. Can they embrace life having been taught to not to value it, and in fact, should they?Despite the slight volume of this book, just over 200 pages, it’s a deeply layered story. It unfolds itself gradually as the character’s comprehension of their choices becomes clearer. Yet while so much of the content of the story is internal, centred around reflection on their respective journeys to this point – it doesn’t lack tension. Scott uses the setting of the train, the presence of soldiers, the atmosphere of uncertainty and danger to keep the story taut. Additionally, by keeping Kerr’s motivations and identity concealed for much of the plot, Grace’s position always feels precarious, threatened. The fictional near-future of Grace feels believable to me, the world and its premise are rooted closely enough in our own reality to be frighteningly feasible. But do I believe in the decisions of the characters? Do I think this would happen, that two people in these respective situations would make these choices, come to these conclusions? I don’t know about that. I’d like to, of course. I want to. But I do think this story sustains plausibility only up to a point. Beyond that, I feel it’s more of a philosophical journey for the reader than a strictly realistic one. Grace is a bold, difficult book – but it doesn’t feel unduly provocative. While writing a story about suicide bombers, indoctrination and a brutal regime, Scott draws the focus to the universal issues of hope, guilt, shame and independence. It is a demanding book, it does ask the reader to invest their personal code of ethics in its examination of these characters. It’s uncomfortable, yet powerful.And I really don’t know how to reduce that down to a number of stars. * * * * * Grace is the most unusual book I have read this year, and the first I am seriously considering not rating. And not because:(a) ”There are not enough stars in the goodreads universe to express my love for this unparalleled work of genius!” or(b) ”NO EFFING STARS. Burn it, burn it with fire.”When I finish procrastinating and post an actual review, I’ll attempt to explain why..