The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
5Q 4P; J/S
At thirteen, Kyra is just beginning to realize that there are two things she loves almost as much as she loves her family: books and Joshua. But she needs to keep both of those loves secret, since both are strictly forbidden in her religious community. Books bring the outside in and expose readers to Satan's teachings. Boys...well, boys and girls aren't to look at each other or talk to each other unless the Prophet allows it. If a boy and a girl are found together, even if they are doing nothing but talking, the punishment will be swift and severe. Kyra and Joshua are doing more than talking. They are sneaking out at night to be together. They are sharing books and music. They are kissing and dreaming of being together forever.
The Prophet and his Apostles run everything in the Compound. They make the rules, and the God Squad makes sure they are enforced. The Prophet also decides who will marry whom, and there is no arguing with his decision. So when the Prophet decrees that Kyra is to marry Apostle Hyrum, her uncle, the family is in despair. Try as Father may, there is no way to avoid the inevitable. Kyra is devastated. Her family can only understand part of her anguish. There is no way to tell them that as much as she's revolted by the idea of marrying her sixty-year-old uncle and becoming his seventh wife, she's also shattered at the thought that she and Joshua can never be together. She wants to refuse, to say she just won't do it. But defying the Prophet means bringing his wrath down upon her family, and that thought is just as painful. She loves her father, her three mothers, and her twenty-one (soon to be twenty-three) brothers and sisters fiercely. What will the Prophet do to them if she runs away with Joshua, as she so badly wants to do? And what will he do to her?
(Kyra has just been informed that she and her mothers are going into town to buy fabric for her wedding dress. It's the final confirmation that there is no way out of this wedding.)
Outside, it is a lie of a morning. Everything is beautiful: The air fresh. The sky so blue it hurts my eyes.
I've had the pleasure of reading a few beautifully written books lately, and this is another to add to that list.
Polygamist communities have been in the news lately. The idea of plural marriages is certainly foreign to most of us in this country. Among the things that struck me as I read this book was that although she fights against this kind of marriage for herself, Kyra doesn't actually seem to mind being part of a polygamous family. She views her family as loving and supportive and derives a lot of her strength from all of her parents and siblings, making little or no distinction between them.
Family relationships in plural marriages must be very complicated things. Imagine having three (or more!) mothers to listen to and have to please! Mother Sarah, Kyra's birth mother, is caring and understanding, but her difficult pregnancy leaves Kyra as her caretaker rather than the other way around. And though Kyra views Mother Clare as "the mean mother" and sometimes resents her, it's Mother Clare who most clearly understands Kyra's feelings and tries to help her accept her fate. The moments she shares her own story with Kyra make her surprisingly sympathetic. (Mother Victoria rather fades into the background between Mother Sarah and Mother Clare.) I particularly liked the contrast between Kyra's relationships with her sisters Laura and Margaret. The love Kyra has for both sisters is undeniable, but they are very different people. Laura is the voice of the status quo and Margaret ...well, I suspect that Kyra is not the only sister in the family who will give the Prophet fits. She's going to be a formidable woman.
I wonder how Kyra's story might have played out under a different Prophet. Would she still have hated her life and wanted to run? It's this Prophet that Kyra says she'd like to kill and leave for the termites to eat. He has very narrow and rigid ideas of what is godly, and he disallows many things (such as freedom to leave the Compound) that the previous Prophet allowed. He is running off the younger men and marrying the young girls to much older men. But the previous Prophet was not that sort of man, and the compound was not always run that way. I wonder if Kyra would have been content to stay under a Prophet who allowed his followers more freedom and allowed her to be with Joshua, even given that she would still have had to share him with other women.
Being a librarian, naturally I love that books give Kyra comfort and support and a means of escape in more ways than one, and I honor Patrick as a true hero.
While I wouldn't classify this as a violent book, there are violent incidents that were shocking and troubling to read. Those images stuck with me for a long time. I am frankly in denial about at least one probable death. Message received: It's hard to think this way about religious groups, but there's no denying that it can be dangerous to take a stand against them.
There are several important issues left unresolved at the end of this book. I found myself wondering what the fallout of Kyra's decision would be. I have no idea if Carol Lynch Williams intends to write a sequel, but I think it would be fascinating to explore the "what happens next?" in a situation like this.
To be honest, this wasn't a book I was dying to read. But I was curious to see if I agreed with all the positive, even glowing, reviews I'd seen and heard, so I decided to read it anyhow. I was caught at the very first page, and my interest never waned. I absolutely believed the people and the situation. I cared, and I think many of my teens will too. I highly recommend this book for both pleasure reading and as an excellent choice for a book group.