The Chosen One

[openbook booknumber=”0312555113″][rating:4/5]

Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated community without questioning the fact that her father has three wives and she has twenty brothers and sisters, with two more on the way. That is, without questioning them much – if you don’t count her secret visits to the Ironton County Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her meetings with Joshua, the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of having a man chosen for her.

But when the Prophet decrees that she must marry her sixty-year-old uncle – who already has six wives – Kyra must make a desperate choice in the face of violence and her own fears of losing her family forever.

This book addresses a very powerful and deeply controversial subject and in a surprisingly strong, vivid and heart breaking way for a YA novel. I think this book exemplifies one of YA’s true strengths in that way. Kyra is a young girl growing up in a remote compound belonging to a polygamist sect. She has grown up in a family with one father and three mothers and now has twenty siblings with two more on the way. She has known no other life and in fact finding out about other ways of life is next to impossible and is considered a sin. By chance Kyra discovers a mobile library and that discovery, along with a library card, opens up fresh new horizons for her and she discovers a world beyond the compound’s barbed wire fences and brutal attitudes towards freedom and independent thought.

I’m my mother’s first child, born when she was almost fourteen years old.
       “Think of it,” I said to Laura when I turned twelve. “I’m almost Mother Sarah’s age when she was married.”
       Laura looked at me, her squinty eyes even more narrowed. “You could have your own old man as a husband,” she said.
       “Shut up,” I had said.
And she had laughed.

Then Kyra discovers that the Prophet has decreed that she is to be the seventh wife of her sixty-year-old uncle and her defiance leads to punishments that even takes her own family aback. She is beaten and threatened and it is revealed to her that other young girls that defied the Prophet were killed for their disobedience. Kyra does not love her uncle, even as an uncle. She wants to choose for herself, but that choice may lead to a chain of events that destroy everything she has ever known, and hurt everyone she has ever loved.

This book is YA but is written more on an MG level. Even though the writing is simplistic the message is not and I wonder if it might not be a bit above the average MG reader. That being said it is a very powerful book that talks frankly about the every day tragedies and violations of basic human freedoms that take place in a polygamist cult. It talks about the double standards, the deaths, the murders, the mind sets, the beatings, the forced under age marriages, the forced under age sex, the incest, the abuse and the fear. It also talks about the positive aspects as well, what little there are. Kyra has a father that truly loves her and, I believe, loves every one of his wives and children as well. He honestly buys into the hype and believes in it whole heartedly. He wants to do what is right for his family and goes to bat for Kyra more than once to try and stop what is happening, as he believes it isn’t right. Her mothers both love and envy each other and help each other out, and they all love their husband. The children all love and respect each other and stick up for and by each other in times of need. I think that is pretty sophisticated to show both sides of the coin and to have the story still work.

Since this is a YA book I think the author almost had to take the easy way out and end it with several questions left unanswered. What happens to the librarian? What happens to the cult? What happens to Kyra’s family? These questions will not be answered, this book focuses exclusively on Kyra. I think a lot of adult logistics had to be left out to make this book understandable and enjoyable for a younger audience, but as an adult I found the lack of filling in these very important gaps disorienting and it left me feeling as if the story was unfinished or not realistically filled out. For a younger YA the ending as is will be fulfilling enough, I think.

The other thing I found frustrating is I wanted an adult book-esque introduction or afterword by the author. I wanted sources, I wanted back story, I wanted to know why this book, why write it now, is it accurate, what was it based on, what research was done, what other books did she recommend and on and on. I felt, again, like there should have been more and, again, a younger audience as this book was aimed at might not have cared as much as I did. So for that reason the book ended up losing a star.

For YA readers who want a deep, startlingly, blood pumping book on a girl growing up in an isolated polygamist community and coming of age in fairly unique circumstances than I would recommend this book. Just be sure the reader has the maturity to handle the subjects introduced in its pages. In a story about a girl whose eyes are opened by books your own eyes will be opened in ways you will not expect. I highly recommend it.

2 Responses to The Chosen One

  1. Amy
    7:18 pm on May 24th, 2010

    Sounds like such a powerful book, I’m disappointed to see that it is written at more of a MG level though. Still, sounds great.

  2. Bitsy
    7:32 am on May 26th, 2010

    I’ve been thinking more about that recently and I wonder at the discrepancy between the age level it’s written at and the age level it’s written for. Part of me wonders if the book isn’t supposed to be the proverbial library on wheels for other girls that might be in a similar situation as Kyra was. It’s a simple, easy to understand, primer to cults like hers to slip into a pocket if need be. A way to let them know there is a real world outside where you can be safe if you only know to look for it.

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