Writing young adult fiction is a tricky endeavor, for the reader walks a meandering path between two worlds, that of child and adult. A successful book of this genre must tread ever so carefully on the line that separates interesting and evocative from inappropriate. It must provoke thought without being overly explicit. No easy feat when the subject matter is polygamy.
The Chosen One serves as a fine example of handling such a difficult issue deftly. Unfortunately, the book's cover, with it's alluring picture of a young girl's back, shown in a low cut dress (or nightgown) implies a sexual undercurrent that is nonexistent in the book itself and may serve, sadly, to hamper some adults from buying it. This would be a shame, for The Chosen One is a courageous story of heartbreaking dilemma and hope.
Author Carol Lynch Williams skillfully and suitably guides the reader through such an iniquitous subject by using the first person voice of thirteen-soon-to-be-fourteen-year-old Kyra, one of twenty-one siblings growing up in a polygynous fundamentalist sect, where her mother is one of three "sister wives" married to her father. As with the other families in the settlement, each wife is allocated a small individual trailer for herself and her children. Family trailers are huddled together, husbands spending designated nights with each wife.
Contact with the outside world is limited and carefully monitored. But Kyra wrestles with a guilty secret: she has been checking out books from the mobile library truck that she sneaks off to meet on a strip of deserted road.
Finding the library was an accident.
Prophet Childs would never let one of us check out books from a public library.
"We have our beliefs," he's said. "We have our God-given freedoms. And no one is going to take that away by brainwashing us with Satan's teachings."
Sitting high up in her tree, the only place she can be alone, Kyra is captivated by the stories she reads and begins to wonder why such things as books and music are restricted, why are they thought to be so harmful? This only adds to the list of other questions that occupy her head these days. Kyra loves her family deeply, but is more and more perplexed by aspects of their lives. She chides herself for such thoughts and worries that she is sinning in the eyes of God. She is in constant fear of being found out and yet she cannot bring herself to stop reading or thinking.
When Prophet Childs informs Kyra and her family that God has revealed to him she should be married to her sixty-year-old uncle, becoming his "seventh wife in the Lord," everyone is dumbfounded, yet no one dares to argue. Prophet Childs is a steel-fisted ruler whose word is non-negotiable, his decrees absolute. Refusing to follow any of his edicts carries severe punishment: disgrace, beatings, ex-communication and sudden disappearances. There have even been some sudden deaths, but it is forbidden to talk about these things and so everyone is left to wonder.
Kyra is ultimately faced with a terrible decision: stay or run. Each choice is irrevocable, each option carries staggering consequences. To be free from her impending marriage means leaving her family and all that is familiar for a frightening, unknown world filled with supposed evil and ungodliness. Not only will her family be forbidden to have any contact with her, but they will be made to suffer for her disobedience. And worst of all, disgraced in God's eyes, she will be banned from heaven, separated from her loved ones for all eternity. Yet to stay means she must give up her very self and accept an existence that makes her not want to live at all. When her decision is finally made, it is with agonizing deliberation.
The Chosen One is a marvelous book for several reasons. Carol Lynch Williams shows proficient ability in channeling Kyra's teenage voice. Though her upbringing is radically different from that of most teens, Kyra's inner musings and daydreams are so achingly on the mark that she is familiar to us. The plot is evenly paced, proving to be a page-turner near the end as tension and suspense build steadily towards resolution. But best of all, this book begs for discussion. Kyra's story is not easily forgotten and has the added bonus of offering up ancillary topics such as the importance of libraries, the subjugation of women and the dangers of extremist fundamentalism, to name just a few.
The Chosen One serves to remind us of the importance of believing in ourselves, that as human beings we are all worthy of respect. It is a cautionary tale about the dangers and ramifications of absolute and autocratic rule, and how to give up the right of free thought and free will is to lose everything.
This review is from the September 8, 2010 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.
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