The Button Girl, by Sally Apokedak, is a well-plotted young adult fantasy with thorough world-building and memorable characters. Each chapter is prefaced with a short paragraph including quotes from fictional books and the protagonist’s own poetry that enhance the theme of each chapter. There are also quotes from the book of Providence which is the power controlling the characters’ lives.
What happens when you are raised for sixteen years knowing that the overlords will steal your first two sons and make them into slaves after you button (i.e., marry) your betrothed?
If your name is Repentance Atwater, that is the dilemma you face as you mature into womanhood. It is the dilemma you answer with all of the integrity you can muster: you will risk the shame that will be brought on your family and your own severe punishment of banishment to the city of the overlords. You will go against… Providence himself, call him a liar, and say that he has not provided as he ought. (p. 7) You will refuse to button.
With that as the premise, the reader is quickly inside Repentance’s point of view as she refuses the one young man who wants to button her and who she detests–Sober Marsh.
Since they fail at buttoning, Sober and Repentance are taken as slaves to the overlord’s city. When faced with the realization that leaving her home was a mistake, Repentance fills with so much regret that she saves the buttons from her blouse–the very buttons that were supposed to unite her to Sober.
At the slave market, the two are bought by different owners. As they separate Repentance looks at Sober:
Sober lifted his head and Repentance flinched, expecting to see hatred in his eyes. Instead she was met with only sorrow. He held her gaze until she had to look away, as waves of shame and despair crashed over her. (p. 62)
Repentance is relieved to discover he doesn’t hate her and perhaps even forgives her for losing their freedom. The book proceeds as she seeks to escape but is hounded by the knowledge that if she disobeys or is caught, her younger sister Comfort will also be enslaved.
She resigns herself to being one of the prince’s concubines, only to be “rescued” by his elderly uncle who wants her for himself. But, “by Providence” he never touches her. His only intent is to save her from his cruel nephew who is next in line to rule after the old man dies.
Repentance’s safety is fleeting. The cruel nephew has his sights on the throne and on Repentance. Repentance must use her wits to try and keep herself and her family safe–everyone is in danger because of her own selfish decision not to button Sober. In the middle of it all, she thinks, If Providence wasn’t real, then she had no one to blame for her troubles, maybe. (p. 167)
As Providence would have it, Sober works for the farmer who delivers food to the palace where Repentance lives. Even as she rejoices in seeing him and realizes that he has forgiven her, there are many suspenseful obstacles that keep them apart.
Along the way, Repentance gains much self-knowledge and Sober proves to be true and loyal–exactly what very young woman should desire in her betrothed.
Repentance shivered. She had never been content. That was her problem. She’s always railed against Providence and the unfair treatment he allowed. She hadn’t run away form the village for such noble reasons. She wasn’t so much loving her future babies as trying to protect her own heart and trying to strike back at the hated overlords… (p. 323).
Sally Apokedak has cleverly brought together romance, fantasy, plot twists, family secret reveals, and thought-provoking material on the nature of providence to keep young adults (and adults!) turning the pages.
Sally is donating a personally autographed copy of THE BUTTON GIRL to one of our YA Master Class participants!
Look for THE BUTTON GIRL Part II in an upcoming post. I ask Sally questions about her creative process and how her faith influenced her writing. This review original appeared on carolbaldwinblog.blogspot.com.