Tuesday 21 June 2011

The Chosen One

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams (Simon and Schuster)

PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-184738938-1
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated community without ever questioning the fact that her father has three wives and she has twenty brothers and sisters and without ever questioning the strict rules imposed by ‘the Prophet’ who leads them.  But now, Kyra has started keeping secrets: she reads books that are forbidden and sneaks away to meet Joshua.  Kyra cannot accept the Prophet’s decree that she is to become the seventh wife of her sixty-year-old uncle.  She decides that she cannot stay, she must escape.  But saving herself means endangering everyone she has ever cared for.

The Chosen One follows Kyra and her life in the lead up to her escape from a polygamist cult. 

It is a community that is strict and controlling.  They are forbidden to read anything other than the bible; all, but those in power, live in trailers with no luxuries; the Prophet chooses who will be married to whom.  At first only restless at the restrictions imposed upon her, Kyra is heartbroken when she is told she is to marry her uncle. 

Soon she is confronted with the brutality that the Prophet will resort to in order to maintain control.  When Joshua requests that Kyra be allowed to marry him rather than her uncle, they are both beaten and he is evicted from the Compound.  Unable to face her future, Kyra is presented with an agonising decision – she can be married to her overbearing and cruel uncle or she can escape and leave her family forever. 

It is easy to get caught up in the agony of Kyra’s decision.  Her freedom is going to come at a high price – and not just for herself.  She knows that her family will be made to suffer for her betrayal of the Prophet and his teachings.

Kyra’s escape from the compound is difficult, bloody and harrowing.  Ultimately, she gains her freedom and a start at a new life.  The story, however, does not end neatly: we are never told if she sees her family again or what becomes of them; or if Kyra and Joshua find each other in the outside world.  It does end hopefully, though.  Kyra is reassured by the sight of a Russian Olive tree outside the window of the half-way house.  It is the same type of tree she used to retreat to at the Compound.  It reminds her of what she has fought for and what she won, her freedom.

The Chosen One not only provides an insight into cult life and the impact felt by those that leave.  It is a novel that touches on many points: love, friendship, the concept of family, embracing individuality and courage. 

The book was quite confronting in some sections.  Kyra is threatened, emotionally blackmailed, beaten and witnesses a murder.  That, to me, increased the story’s appeal – there is no sugar-coating of the details or false promises of a happily-ever-after.  I thoroughly enjoyed The Chosen One and would happily recommend it. 

Carol Lynch Williams is the author of several books including: Carolina Autumn, My Angelica and Pretty Like Us.  She has a Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults and helped develop the conference on Writing and Illustrating for young Readers at Brigham Young University.  She lives in Utah with her husband and seven children.

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