Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Bookish Thoughts: The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

If I was going to kill the Prophet," I say, not even keeping my voice low, I'd do it in Africa."  
~ Opening of The Chosen One



The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
St. Martin's Griffin, 2009
Fiction (YA); 213

Polygamy and cults have long been an interest of mine. I had a college professor who used to talk about his days studying cults, observing them up close and from a distance, helping former members recover once they got out. A few years ago I read just about everything I could get my hands on that dealt with cults and fundamentalism. Somehow, The Chosen One didn't make it onto my radar. I was quite excited at the opportunity to read it now that it had.

This is the story of 13-year-old Kyra who is one of the Chosen Ones, chosen to marry her much older uncle who is an Apostle of the polygamist sect her family belongs to. Krya has never been the most faithful in her family, sneaking off to read forbidden books or just to be alone . . . and then there's the boy she likes. The last thing she wants to do is marry her uncle, who already has six wives. Not to marry him means certain punishment not just for her, but for her family as well. Kyra loves her family dearly and must decide whether to stay or try to escape the only life she's ever known.

The Chosen One is a heartbreaking story. I have read similar stories about groups of people living together in a closed community, shut off from the modern world which they view is full of sin and the temptations of the devil. Polygamy is a way of life, girls being married off to older men, sometimes their own close relatives, while teenage boys are sent packing--a very real phenomenon called the Lost Boys. It is no different in Kyra's community. The rules are strict, and what the leader, the Prophet, says is law. 

Kyra's own family is quite large. She's lived a relatively happy life. Her father and mothers are kind to her. She looks after her younger siblings. Kyra is easy to like--and easy to relate to. She is smart and very independent minded. It makes living in a community that values obedience above all else a bit difficult for her, however. She often wanders outside the gates of their community despite being told it is forbidden. She takes advantage of a book mobile that drives by now and then, relishing every opportunity she can to read books, books other than the Bible, which is the only book she is supposed to read. As many of us know, books open doors and windows into new ways of thinking. They expose us to the world outside our own lives. To someone like the Prophet, they are dangerous. To someone like Kyra, they are empowering. 

As I mentioned before, it was impossible not to like Kyra and to root for her as the novel progressed. I soon was engrossed in Krya's life and story. The author does a good job of getting us in Kyra's head and understanding what she is going through. She is in a difficult position. Everything in me screamed, "Run away!" But I also realized that it wasn't so simple a decision for her to make given the circumstances, including what it might mean for the family she would be leaving behind.

This is one of those books that sort of crept up on me. I wasn't too sure about the writing style, given the novel is narrated by a rather naive 13-year-old with limited experience. It reads like the Young Adult novel it is. While the writing style may give the impression this is a book on the lighter side, it deals with serious issues. There are some violent and difficult scenes to read; one in particular, involving a young child, had me wanting to throw the book across the room because I was so mad. 

The Chosen One was an emotional read, but one that I think is very important. While this story is fictional, there are groups like this out there. I still find myself thinking about Kyra and her sister Laura, wondering how each are faring. This is definitely a book I recommend reading.


To learn more about Carol Lynch Williams and her books, please visit the author's website. You can also find the author on GoodreadsFacebook, and Twitter.

Source: Many thanks to Rebecca Taylor of I'm Lost in Books for sharing this book with me through our postal bookclub! 

© 2016, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

34 comments:

  1. I'm fascinated with religious sects and cults so I loved this book.

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    1. Kathy - There's just something fascinating about them, isn't there? Horrifying, but fascinating.

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  2. It is interesting to examine all of the elements that exist in a situation like this. Maybe most curious to me is how a charismatic leader can influence his followers and how intelligent people can willingly accept the values, discipline, and circumscribed life that the leader imposes. Disturbing.

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    1. Jenclair - Yes, it really is interesting how just one person can have so much influence over others--or a small group of someones, at any rate. In this particular one, the Prophet was the son of the former leader and people just sort of fell in line as he instituted more and more restrictions. It really does make you wonder how so many thinking people could just follow along without questioning . . . And yet it happens time and time again.

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  3. Sounds like it would be a very emotional read. I'm curious about the topic as well. I find it fascinating and at the same time, appalling.

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    1. Ti - It was quite emotional. Appalling is a good word for it. I really felt for Kyra. I cannot imagine having to live like that.

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  4. I enjoy finding out more about cults, and religious groups that function as cults, and have read more than several books on this topic, fiction and nonfiction, over the years. I like the idea that she gravitates towards books as a taste of freedom. I don't read YA much at all, so not sure if it's for me, but I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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    1. Rita - I liked that about this one too. I think Kyra was already independent minded, but books gave her a taste of what else was out there. I don't think there was any going back for her at that point.

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  5. I've this book sitting on my shelf for a while. I think this is one of those books that has to be in the right frame of mood to read it. It always has me seething whenever I read about abusing; be them children or women. I think I'll let the book sit on my shelf for a while as my mood doesn't call for it right now.

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    1. Melody - I understand. I hope you do read it at some point though. It's such a good book.

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  6. Cults are fascinating, but I think this book would make me too angry! Just knowing that this goes on in reality makes my blood boil.

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    1. Diana - It definitely made me angry. And sad. I really feel for the real Kyras out there who have to go through all that.

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  7. It's kind of weird, but I enjoy YA that covers difficult subjects like this. Sometimes the simplified prose can convey better images than verbose paragraphs can ever manage. I'll keep an eye on this one for my wishlist- from your review, it sounds like something I'd enjoy.
    ~Litha Nelle

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    1. Litha Nelle - You make a good point. It does make difficult subject matter seem more approachable, in some ways.

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  8. I don't think that I have heard of this book before but it sounds like one that I would really enjoy. Reading about these kind of groups is so interesting yet heartbreaking to think about. Great review!

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    1. Carole - Thank you! I hope you like it if you do read it!

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  9. Oh my goodness, this sounds so strong! Especially because Kyra is so young but still quite independent. I'm definitely adding this to my TBR, even if I think I'll be quite upset with the herd-mentality...
    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

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    1. Lexxie Lin - Kyra is a great character. The book did make me angry in spots, that's for sure. But it's worth it.

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  10. Something about cults fascinates me too - it's mostly this question I have about how people can choose to live in cults. This one does sound very fascinating.

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    1. Athira - Same here. What draws people to them, why they stay, why they don't question or why they go along with things even when they have doubts . . . It's all very fascinating.

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  11. The Chosen One sounds interesting, so thanks for the recommendation. The topic of cults and polygamy grabs my interest as well. Have you read Shattered Dreams by Irene Spencer or The 19th Wife? Both were good, but Shattered Dreams especially.

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    1. Naida - I really enjoyed The 19th Wife when I read it. I haven't read Shattered Dreams. I'll have to look for that one. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  12. If I remember this one came out when a few other books also with the same subject matter were getting a lot of attention. Unfortunately I didn't get to read this one but I think I have this on my shelves somewhere. Great review and now you really make me want to go look for it!

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    1. Iliana - Books like this did seem to be a big trend for awhile there, didn't they? I hope you do get a chance to read it!

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  13. I am glad I am not the only one who finds cults fascinating. This sounds dark and well done. Thanks for your thorough review!

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    1. Kimberly - There's just something about them, isn't there? I hope you enjoy this if you do read it!

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  14. I read this book years ago and really loved it. I'm completely fascinated by cults, polygamy, and any type of religion that is other than my own, really. I have read a few other books by this author and they are all great. Her writing is really beautiful and she writes about interesting "tough stuff" kind of subject matter.

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    1. Heather - I will have to check out some of the author's other books. I've always been interested in religions too. It's all so very interesting, the history, the beliefs, and the roles they have in society.

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  15. I had forgotten about this book. I never got around to reading it, but I must re-add it to my wish list. :)

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    1. Kelly - It wasn't even on my radar before it arrived in my mailbox. I am glad to have read it!

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  16. I read this book several years ago and remember feeling much as you did. It is a YA book, but the issues are very adult. I think it's good that Carol Lynch Williams presents this story in a way that is geared for younger readers, but can certainly be an important story for older fans as well. A good book to read with a teenage daughter and then talk about.

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    1. Kay - Books like this are so important, I think. I don't read a lot of YA, but I've read enough to know that I tend to prefer the books that don't have that YA feel to them even if they carry that label. But that's just me. I think Williams' did a great job of bringing her subject matter to light in a way that is both compelling and approachable overall.

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  17. So glad you liked it! I thought it was very well-written, too. Cults are such an interesting phenomenon. I find myself reading another book about cults called The Girls by Emma Cline. Have you heard of it? It is being published on June 14th. It takes place in the 60s. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26893819-the-girls

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Becca. I was just reading a little about The Girls. It sounds like it is a good one (I hope you are enjoying it!).

      You chose well for our book club. :-)

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