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This novel for young adults features thirteen year old Kyra who lives in a polygamist cult in Utah. She is a Chosen One because the cult leader, The Prophet, tells her family that Kyra must marry her uncle who is in his sixties. Not surprisingly, she questions the wisdom of this decision, even though The Prophet says that it is God's will. We see the way that the cult leadership enforces its will through violence and threats, and most of the cult followers do what they are told. Those who disobey are often beaten, ejected from the cult, or killed. Yet Kyra starts off the novel telling her readers that she wishes that The Prophet would die a painful death. She is intellectually curious and disobeys the ban on books: she secretly visits the traveling public library, getting out a wide variety of novels, including even Harry Potter. This curiosity and passion gives Kyra the chance to break out, but she will be running terrible risks.
Even though the book is set in the present day, it often feels like it is set in the middle ages or in a backward village in Afghanistan, run by the Taliban, so backward are the ways of the this cult. Yet at the same time the novel makes one wonder, if it is so ridiculous to bow one's will to the way of this cult, then is it not as ridiculous to submit to any religious authority? One will likely not finish the book feeling sympathetic to any dogmatic religion. The first person perspective makes Kyra an especially sympathetic character, and Williams' characterization of her is strong. Even though the depiction of the cult leaders is very unsympathetic, and their use of force to coerce the followers in the name of their religion is utterly transparent in its cynical appeal to religious authority, they do not seem like caricatures. The plot is strong, and will make readers want to know what happens next. It also gives us some idea of how religion combines with a highly misogynist judgment of women to make sense of polygamy, so that women will accept their lower status in the society. Hopefully the book will make readers embrace the power of reading and see the importance of a skeptical attitude towards those who claim to know revealed truths.
The reading of the unabridged audiobook by Jenna Lamia is dramatically right, since she sounds young, and she is able to give the different characters very different voices.
© 2009 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.
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