With her braids and ankle-length dresses, Kyra Leigh Carlson looks like she just wandered off the set of Little House on the Prairie. And it's not just her clothes that are different - the 13-year-old has never flipped through an issue of Seventeen, never roamed the mall, never experimented with makeup, never texted a friend. She's not like other teenagers. She's one of The Chosen.
Along with other members of the sect, Kyra lives in an isolated compound surrounded by a high chain-link fence. Although cut off from the world, she's not entirely unhappy. She excels at piano, dotes on her younger sisters, and treasures every moment she spends with her kind, handsome boyfriend. She's surrounded by a large, loving family, which consists of her gentle father, his three wives and their 21 children (with two more on the way). As one of the older kids, Kyra's expected to help cook, clean, tend the garden, watch her younger siblings, and care for her pregnant mother. It's constant work. It's also hands-on training for the fast-approaching day when she will marry and run her own household.
Kyra doesn't dare complain. Not out loud, anyway. Criticism of The Prophet is never allowed. Whatever he says, goes, no questions asked. Everyone knows what happens to those who disobey - the God Squad makes them disappear. So, Kyra keeps her sins to herself. No one knows about her whispered mutterings against The Prophet, no one witnesses her clandestine trips to the mobile library, and only Joshua knows about their stolen kisses. Until Kyra dares to defy The Prophet. Maybe God really does speak to their unyielding leader, but Kyra doesn't care - she's not going to marry her 60-year-old uncle.
Her refusal sparks fury among The Chosen's leaders, but they've dealt with rebellious girls before. There are ways to make them submit. The Prophet speaks for God - and God's commandments will be fulfilled. No matter what. If it requires beating the fire out of young girls until they stumble obediently to their marriage beds, then so be it. If it means forcing teenage boys out of the community to get rid of any competition, it will be done. Even if it means making some people vanish, it's worth it to keep The Chosen compliant.
Even as her mothers cut out the pattern for a wedding dress, Kyra plots her escape. But, how can a 13-year-old evade a force as powerful as the God Squad? Can she survive the many dangers of the surrounding desert? Does she really want to shame her family by running? How can she possibly fit in among the crude, flesh-bearing heathens of the real world, anyway? Is she safer inside her cloistered community? God cursed her with a fierce spirit - will she let it guide her to freedom? Or will she allow the weight of oppression to stomp it right out of her?
Carol Lynch Williams' Whitney Award-winning novel, The Chosen One, tells an escape-from-polygamy story that's both familiar and unique. There's the oppression, the tyranny, and the exploitation we've come to recognize through recent news coverage. However, by giving Kyra a family that cares for her, Williams allows that not all unorthodox situations are as horrifying as they might seem at first glance. She proves that fanatics are not always lunatics - sometimes, they're normal people who have been so browbeaten that they trade blind obedience for independent thought. Still, Williams maintains that no one, least of all a child, should be robbed of their own free will and choice. Even if mandated by "God."
Most of all, The Chosen One is the chilling tale of one girl's fight to live her own life. This "ripped-from-the-headlines" story brings the plights of exploited children everywhere forcefully home. Kyra speaks for them all in a tale that's so compelling it captured my attention from the first sentence, keeping me riveted right up until its last. I read it in one sitting. It was only when I closed the book - then, and only then - that I finally remembered to breathe. Powerful, heartbreaking and absolutely unforgettable, The Chosen One is not to be missed.
(Readalikes: The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff)
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for violence, tense/suspenseful scenes
To the FTC, with love: I bought this book from Amazon with some of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha.