Thursday, May 5, 2011

Book Review: The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

Speaking of books that hit uncomfortably close to home, The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams had a much stronger effect on me than I had anticipated. I didn't think that I would have much in common with a thirteen-year-old character who is born into a repressive polygamous sect in the middle of nowhere, but it seems that some aspects of being indoctrinated into the notion that women are inferior to men because god said so are universal. The Chosen One left me shaken, moved, and very, very thankful that books were there to set me free, as well.

The Chosen One revolves around Kyra, the thirteen-year-old almost-eldest (her older sister appears to have Down's Syndrome) daughter in a polygamist family. Her father has three wives, and since the sect doesn't believe in birth control, Kyra has over twenty siblings (with a few more on the way). She manages to stay sane through playing the piano, carrying on a secret, forbidden relationship with Joshua, a boy her own age, and covertly visiting the Bookmobile and reading secular books. Her secret world begins to collapse when Kyra learns that she has been Chosen to wed her sixty-year-old uncle, who already has six wives. She is thoroughly disgusted by the idea, and begins to break away from her family and community. As her rebellious acts escalate, the abuse that the Prophet and the all-male Elders inflict upon the community becomes increasingly clear. Kyra finds herself torn between her loyalty to and her need to protect her family and her desperate desire to flee her repugnant uncle and everything that a life with him would entail.

Williams deftly explores the psychology of someone who has been raised in a truly dysfunctional environment; Kyra's struggles are both realistic and deeply compelling, inspiring both frustration and compassion in the reader. It's clear that Williams has done a lot of research to explore the nuances of fundamentalist polygamist groups, and it shows throughout the narrative. As someone who was raised in a conservative christian environment (I thank my lucky stars most days that it wasn't worse), the way that the leaders used religion and the threat of eternal damnation to browbeat their followers into obedience rang true, as did the multitude of things they did to repress and control the women of the community. Needless to say, I found myself with a glass of wine and some knitting not long after I finished it.

Outstanding. 5 out of 5 stars.

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