Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Want a cup of controversy with that book?

I've just completed The Chosen One, a new young adult title by author Carol Lynch Williams and I'm really at odds as to how to review it. I love love loved it. I did. Honestly and completely. However...there's more to it than just love.

On one hand, I thought the writing was great, the plot fantastic, and the intrigue was just SO high. On the other hand, I felt that unnecessary jabs were being taken at a culture in America that we know so very little about. Is it unfair? Is it stereotyping? Is it based on a media sensation?? I just don't know. The book is a very successful writing venture, but the fragile topic handled without care. And I'm NOT saying that to be mean or argumentative, it's honestly how I feel!!

The Chosen One introduces us to a book-loving member of a highly protected, isolated polygamist compound, 13-year-old Kyra. She has grown up in this community and the idea of her father and other elder men having multiple wives and dozens of children is neither foreign, nor upsetting to her. It's the way her family's lifestyle is and she accepts it as such. This is not to say that Kyra agrees with everything she's taught. She has an insatiable desire to read books and secretly visits a bookmobile weekly, checking out a different fiction story each time, carefully hiding them from parents and siblings, and losing herself in worlds other than her own.

When it is decided that Kyra will marry her 60-year-old Uncle, Kyra knows that something about her world is no longer ok. She shouldn't have to marry this elderly man, just because the Prophet says so, however when she fights back, she begins a literal fight for her life. Beaten and broken, Kyra is knows that she has to do what she is told. She cannot marry the boy her age that she is in love with. She cannot read her beloved books. And she cannot escape the violence she has slowly learned to accept. Unless, of course, she does something drastic.

So. Fantastic story with a huge amount of advanced praise. With my advanced review copy I received over four pages of positive comments from wonderful people, such as Kathi Appelt (author of The Underneath), Gregory Maguire (author of Wicked), Cynthia Kadohata (Newbery Medal winner), and so many others including columnists, librarians, professors, etc. The quote that I think really struck what I was feeling was by An Na, Printz Award winning author of A Step From Heaven. It was said by this wonderful author: "Truly thought provoking, heartfelt, and just a plain old good read about a culture and religion that we know very little about these days, except through the media."

An Na of course meant this in a very positive way, but I almost take the other side of the quote. We only know what we read in the newspapers or listen to on the news at night about polygamist compounds. Though I felt Kyra's character just bleeding through the pages (a very rare and wonderful quality of a book), I almost felt that it was an unfair portrayal. Do the girls in the compounds really have to marry their 60-year-old uncles if they don't want to? Are they beaten into submission? Are there deaths that are often covered up? Maybe. But I don't know that.

I think, for me, a "disclaimer" of sorts might have made me feel a bit better. When I read Sister Wife last fall, written by Shelley Hrdlitschka, I felt it was a completely unbiased take on the polygamist compound issue, some of the characters fully supported their lifestyle, others did not. The Chosen One was very much an "anti" my opinion. Which is, of course, perfectly fine, however I think I really would have a felt better with a note from the author or something along those lines.

With all that being said, I truly did enjoy this story. I think that Carol Lynch Williams is one heck of a writer and able to channel her characters in a way that not many authors seem to have the ability to do. The writing had me turning pages quicker than I may have ever before and I lay awake after finishing the novel, wanting a sequel immediately. Tell me more about Kyra, give me more about the siblings, I want MORE! And because of that, this novel was incredibly successful in my eyes. I would most definitely recommend it for libraries and for those older teens that can handle really difficult, emotional books.

Oh and a quick note on the cover....LOVED it! Simple and beautiful, just like Kyra.

I suppose I could have just said that, without including my thoughts on bias and possible stereotyping, however, I wouldn't be Amanda @ A Patchwork of Books if I didn't stir something up! I would love to know what others think of this title once you read it, and though it's not published until May, I think some other ARCs are making their way around.

To learn more or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon.

The Chosen One
Carol Lynch Williams
224 pages
Young Adult fiction
St. Martin's Press
May 2009


Bookworm said...

Thanks for sharing about this book. Very interesting.

sally apokedak said...

Thanks for the review. I'll look for this book. If for no other reason than that I love great characters and this girl sounds like a great character.

I appreciate your thoughts on the stereotyping issue. Some religious groups are, no doubt, worst than others and it does us all good to remember that not all of them are abusive.

Kim said...

Great review, I'm adding it to the TBR pile!

Lisa said...

Nice review, thanks for sharing.

Kaethe said...

While not horrific for everyone within the group*, polygamy sects do rely on the rape and coerced marriage of teenage girls, as well as the abuse and/or expulsion of teenage boys. There are many books on the subject by both females who managed to escape and males who were thrown out as surplus.

While polygamy is mostly restricted to tiny offshoots of Mormonism in the US today, it has been practiced all over the world, and can still be found in many nations where its practice is unrelated to the Mormons. For more info, see

Thanks for the review. I'll have to read it myself.

*Obviously, it's a good system for some of the men, and relatively good for a few of the women, too.

Callista said...

That was a great review. I totally get what you mean about not really knowing what exactly goes on in them. I read a book called The Polygamist, don't know if you saw my review. It was written a couple decades ago and in Sierra Leone. It's fiction but what is talked about in regards to their way of life and polygamy is true. It's an interesting and unique glimpse into the way THEY do polygamy. Just search my blog if you want to see the review.

Serena said...

great review...sounds like an interesting read.

Maw Books said...

Can I just say that not having my hands on an ARC of this book is driving me NUTS! For some odd reason, I just can't get enough of the polygamy books and Williams is a local author to me. Must. Read. Now.

Carol B. said...

Ms. Williams is herself a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and while I have not yet read the book, I'm sure she did her research and thought carefully about how she wanted to approach the issue of polygamy. Including an author's note might have been useful, I agree.