Friday, May 01, 2009
The Chosen One
The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams. St. Martin's Press. May 2009. ARC supplied by publisher.
Kyra Carlson is almost 14; as the oldest daughter in her family, she will be the first to be "chosen", to be married. She is one on the "The Chosen Ones," who live on a compound, secure in their knowledge that they live the way God wants. Outside the gates, it is Satan's world.
But Kyra has always wanted to know about the world outside the fence, a world where children like her eldest sister, Emily, aren't ignored for being different and slow; a world where there aren't multiple wives; a world where she isn't expected to marry a man over fifty years older than herself.
Williams' writing is as sparse as Kyra's world; and conveys how limited the choices are of "The Chosen. "It's still early and there is the promise of the sun. The sky to the east lightens, and everything around us seems like an old photo, kind of gray. The way I feel, I think, worn out and gray."
The writing doesn't drown the reader in description; it's brushstrokes, hints, but it's enough to feel the heat and cramped trailers of the ordinary people, like Kyra's family, versus the luxury of the Prophet and the Apostles. It's enough to paint Kyra finding freedom in her thoughts, in music, in discovering a mobile library full of worlds to explore, in falling in love with a teenaged boy.
Longtime readers know this is exactly the type of writing I adore; each word carefully chosen, none wasted, no extra words. It's Kyra's words and emotions; and we are with her always, whether it's hiding in a tree, reading forbidden books; caring for a sister; realizing her parents are complex and flawed.
We, the reader, know that Kyra has few options: conform and accept the marriage; run away; or die. This is a story where Kyra can never, ever, change how the Chosen are. At best, Kyra can save herself. At worst... yes, it can be worse than Kyra can imagine.
Williams creates a sense of anxiety and suspense as we wonder what Kyra will chose; as we realize the consequences her family will suffer if her choice is anything other than what her Prophet and community demands; the suspense quickens the pulse, pages are read faster and faster, dreading what is coming, but having to find out what happens next.
Williams never identifies the polygamist sect as any one religion (other than Christian -- they read the Bible, talk of God, Heaven, Jesus). And, interestingly enough, it's not a condemnation of polygamy; it is a condemnation of fundamentalism, misogyny, and dictatorships. It is a condemnation of giving up freedom and the ability to make one's own choices. It is a condemnation of child abuse masked as something holy.
The current Prophet is the son of the previous Prophet; under his leadership, the Chosen Ones have gotten more extreme. Yes, thirteen year old girls were married off before; but they were not married to old men. Yes, there was a Compound; but there were no fences, and people could freely leave and go to town. Kyra doesn't know if she would want to share a husband with other wives; but the evil described in this story is not evil from multiple wives, but rather evil from unchecked power and a leader having total control over every aspect of his follower's lives.
As one reads this -- as Williams' reveals the total control the Prophet has, the stranglehold on all the Chosen One's lives -- one cannot help but wonder at the parents and adults who allow this to happen. Williams does not paint Kyra's father or three mothers as bad people; but they are people who have slowly ceded away their responsibility for their children's happiness and safety; just as others have chosen to try to share the power (and therefore the rewards) of being an Apostle or "God Squad" member.
Kyra, and her family, will haunt you.
Becky's Book Reviews review
The Reading Zone review
A Curious Reader review
My Twitter review
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