Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review: The Chosen One

The Chosen One
Carol Lynch Williams
2009; St. Martins Griffin; 978-0-312-55511-5 (hardcover)
ARC provided by publisher

Summary: Kyra is a member of the Chosen. Within her isolated religious community, each man has multiple wives, reading is restricted to the Bible, and breaking the rules has deadly consequences. Kyra can't help breaking the rules in secret, though: she sneaks off to the Mobile Library on Wheels to get books and she's deeply in love with a boy her age named Joshua. But when she learns the Prophet has foretold her to be the seventh wife of a sixty-year-old man-a man who is her uncle-Kyra realizes that she must take the risk of losing everything she's known in order to escape.

Three Things to Know About The Chosen One

#1: Not all religious groups are alike.

Admidst a recent spate of religious community books, such as The Sister Wife and The Patron Saint of Butterflies (see my review), it becomes clear that each community is quite different. In The Chosen One, there is a slowly-revealed malevolance within the Chosen. When Kyra first attempts to escape, in a high-speed chase riding in the Mobile Library on Wheels, the sequence is truly a nail-biter. It is at this moment that the full evil within the leaders of the Chosen becomes clear. Since the local sheriff is a member of the Chosen, the Prophet and the Apostles are able to exact their terrible revenge upon misbehaving members.

#2: The power of creativity never fails.

Kyra has wide-ranging taste in books--particularly for a girl in her situation. She's read Dr. Seuss, J.K. Rowling, Katherine Paterson: all authors that have been challenged by religious groups. But Kyra doesn't know this--she just knows that these authors have swept her away. Another way that Kyra escapes is with music; she's a gifted piano player. She longs to play a grand piano, like the kind that are in the houses of the Prophet and the Apostles. Yet even the old upright that she plays transport her into another world.

#3: Does religion and equality mix?

Over the course of the novel, Kyra begins to question the social relations within her community. Slowly, she realizes that the men with wives are older--almost none of the younger men have a wife, let alone more than one. Meanwhile, most women are married at fourteen, fifteen or sixteen. In the religion preached by the Prophet, women are meant to serve men. But Kyra, with her reading and her love for Joshua, isn't content with this state of affairs. When the Prophet refuses to reconsider and allow her to marry Joshua, Kyra turns her back on this state of affairs.

Carol Lynch Williams has crafted a stirring look at a closed religious community, one that permits polygamy, incest and murder. Yet in spite of all this, many people are kind, caring people: like her three mothers, her brothers and sisters, and her father. Yet none of these people can save Kyra when the Prophet decrees that she'll marry her uncle--that's up to Kyra. The book ends on a hopeful note, with Kyra able to escape and poised at the beginning of her new life. An ode to freedom-both physical and mental-and its importance, The Chosen One will appeal to any reader seeking to explore a chilling world of restrictions and rules.

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