Thursday, June 2, 2016

Review: The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

We can track many of our beliefs and deeply held convictions to our parents and the communities around us. We are raised to uphold the values our families hold dear. And most of the time, this doesn't hurt anyone despite variations in belief. Occasionally people rebel against the deepest held convictions of their family and friends but such a rebellion is difficult and has consequences. When the rebellion is against a strict fundamentalist, polygamist cult and the rebel is a mere child, as in Carol Lynch Williams' novel, The Chosen One, the stakes are that much higher.

Kyra Carlson is thirteen. She's been raised by her father and three mothers, along with many siblings, in a closed off desert compound. Her family is a member of The Chosen, a group of people practicing polygamy and following the teachings of their leader, the Prophet. The Prophet is assisted by his close group of Apostles and the community's rules are strictly enforced by the God Squad. The Chosen Ones' interaction with the outside world is limited and infrequent in an effort to keep them free of the taint and temptation of Satan. While Kyra and the other children may be kept away from the outside world, Kyra's native intelligence and curiousity lead her to question the blindly faithful life that her family lives. In fact, Kyra has started visiting the local mobile library secretly after discovering it under a tree one day as the driver took a rest. Now the library stops once a week to allow Kyra to borrow a book. This isn't the only forbidden thing that Kyra does either, falling for a fellow member of The Chosen, Joshua, a boy close to her own age. But the Prophet sees a different life for her than the one she has hoped for, revealing the horrifying news that she is to be the seventh wife of her own uncle. If Kyra refuses, it will mean terrible things for her beloved family and even possible death for her.

In this YA novel, Williams indeed captures the horror of a group that offers up its young girls as sacrifices to old men, a group that tolerates zero disobedience and requires complete and total submission, a group that punishes independent thought or desire. Told from Kyra's perspective, the writing is unsophisticated and simple. Her desperation to escape and her revulsion towards marrying her uncle wars on every page with the pull of love for her family and the only life she's ever known. Although much of the book is slow moving, the climax of the novel is sinister and fast paced. Kyra's immediate family is portrayed as normal as a polygamist family can be, with loving parents and caring siblings but the greater community around them is unforgiving and rigid. Kyra doesn't recognize all of the undercurrents and tensions swirling around her although she does mention a few of them in passing, such as noting that her aunt seems to no longer like her now that she's been chosen as her uncle's next bride. She is, though, a young teenager, and as such may not be savvy enough to see the everyday unhappinesses around her that stem specifically from their unquestioning belief in the Prophet's connection to divinity and in the practice of polygamy.

The difficulty of the decision to leave or not leave played out fairly constantly and ultimately a bit too much to keep the narrative tension taut and the book felt as if it really just skimmed the surface of the whole situation. There are some graphic bits, beatings and murders and disappearances, that attest to the violence and danger of those in charge of the cult but for some reason they don't pack the emotional wallop the reader would expect. The ending was rather abrupt and, at least for me, not terribly satisfying. It's an interesting subject for sure and Lynch, in writing this for a YA audience, has brought it to a new readership but I'm not certain it captures all of the psychological drama and truth one would expect of it.

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