Thirteen year old Kyra is one of The Chosen Ones. She has three mothers and countless siblings, is forbidden from leaving the compound where they live, and is secretly in love with her classmate Joshua... and books.
But Kyra isn't allowed to love Joshua, and she definitely isn't allowed to sneak out to the mobile library beyond the chain link fence. When Prophet Childs announces that Kyra is to be the seventh wife of her own uncle, her fragile happiness is shattered. God's will or not, she can't bring herself to do it.
I wasn't sure that Carol Lynch Williams' The Chosen One, the story of a girl raised in a polygamous cult, was going to be a hit with me. I'll be honest with you: after reading the cover blurb, I thought this would be an educational read... but not one I'd be swept away by.
More honesty: I was completely wrong. I connected instantly with Kyra, the secret reader at the heart of this powerful tale, and a week later her story is still floating around at the edges of my consciousness. In Kyra, Carol Lynch Williams has created a character who commands the reader's attention by not sensationalizing her story. Unworldly and uncalculating, her voice draws its power from the fact that we see how terrifying her life is even before she does. She's a character who will appeal to all those voracious readers out there, because she reminds us that reading is a freedom and we should cherish it. At the same time, she cuts an endearingly quaint figure - blanching at the sight of what passes for clothing in on her one chaperoned trip into to town, marvelling at the taste of restaurant food, daydreaming to herself about how cute her classmate looks in his blue jeans. There's a certain beautiful symmetry to the way that books from the outside world give Kyra a means of escape, and her story gives the reader an insight into a very insular way of life. We're looking in at her peering out, and that's part of what makes her story so poignant.
While The Chosen One is impossible to put down, it's not always an easy book to read. Kyra is thirteen, and as you'd expect the idea of marrying her own uncle is something that both repulses and terrifies her. There are shades of grey in Carol Lynch Williams' depiction of polygamy, and Kyra's own extended family has its strengths - but this is a book that draws a clear line between religion and exploitation. Since the leaders of her cult sanction forced marriage as God's will, Kyra's reluctance is met first with disapproval and then with violence that escalates as the wedding day nears and her rebellion becomes more and more urgent. It's intense reading, by turns heartbreaking and nerve-wracking and uncomfortable. The romance with fellow teen Joshua is sweetly written, but this is very much the tale of Kyra's fight for freedom rather than a great love story.
I expected The Chosen One to be moving and thoughtful, and it is - but it's also fast-paced and gripping. At under 250 pages, it's a book full of feeling: anger, desperation, and finally hope. It surprised me. I'd urge everyone who believes in the power of storytelling to read this one.
Out: August 5th 2010, UK
A huge thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for sending a copy of this book for review.