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Cher-y-lynne {sher-uhl-lin} –noun 1. One who formerly sold and recommended children’s books at a bookstore; a specialist in young adult, middle grade, and picture books. 2. A para-educator at a middle school. 3. A struggling young adult writer. 4. A lover of chocolate and popcorn. Archaic: An Audiology and Speech Language Pathology major at Brigham Young University. Questions? Suggestions? Books you'd like me to review? E-mail me at cherylynne1 (at) gmail (dot) com.
This is a blog for my ranting, raving, and occasionally brilliant opinions. You have been warned. Enter at your own risk.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Book Review: The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

Williams, Carol Lynch. The Chosen One. New York: St. Mark's Griffin, 2009.

But instead I have a horrible thought.

I see each of my sisters married to the oldest man in the Compound, Brother Nile Anderson. Married to him. He has to be 150 years old. In my head, I can see his spotted hands, yellowed nails, and those fat blue veins that look like they might pop any second. This comes into my mind because of last night. Of course it does. Because that is what our lives are, I realize, holding on to my little sister.

We are here for the men.

I try to make my mind remember the last time there was a marriage of a young man and a young woman. I can't think of any, not any, not for a long time. It seems all the old men are marrying the young girls.

Like my uncle and me.

13-year-old Kyra has been raised in a polygamous community with her three mothers and twenty (soon to be twenty-two) siblings. But she has a number of sins on her conscience, including reading forbidden books (which is all books but the Bible), secret, unchaperoned meetings with a boy, and even idle thoughts of killing their Prophet. This, she believes, is the reason God is punishing her. Her punishment? The Prophet has had a revelation: Kyra is to marry her sixty-year-old uncle, an apostle and a cruel man who already has six wives. And the more she resists, the more violence and persecution comes upon her, her family, and all those she cares about.

Horrifying. Chilling. Brilliant.

There is not a single word wasted or out of place. The prose is as perfect as the concertos that Kyra loves to play on the piano. Carol Lynch Williams opens the door to a dystopia that exists within our own society. With such a huge cast of characters, it seems inevitable that a few will be left two-dimensional--but they aren't. Even when the villians are at their worst, we believe that they think they are the hero of their own story. And because of the loving family Kyra is born into, we are able to see why this kind of society has been able to function, as well as being able to see how things are changing, and why a new regime would cause a sudden onslaught of rebellion. Certain aspects of the novel are absolutely horrifying. For instance, the God Squad, a task force in charge of ensuring that everyone is behaving properly, is as terrifying as the Spanish Inquisition.

Ms. Williams also makes use of symbolism and foreshadowing in poignant ways. For instance, when the Prophet speaks of his revelations and talking with God, he always points upwards--but never towards heaven. He points instead to lightbulbs and ceilings. To me, this is almost an allusion to Shakespeare's famous lines from Hamlet: "My words go up, my thoughts remain below/Words without thoughts never to heaven go." Prophet Childs may believe that he is God's mouthpiece, but we know he isn't, because as Joshua (the boy Kyra is in love with) says, "God would never demand this."

I could go on in this same vein, but I'll stop here and leave the analyzing to the English majors for years to come.

Written in present tense, this gripping story makes you feel as though you are there, watching every moment as it unfolds. And it makes you desperate to get to the next page. I began reading just before getting ready for bed, and I literally had to have my husband read it out loud to me while brushing my teeth, because I couldn't bear to put it down for that long. I had to continue reading until it was finished. These characters get under your skin, into your head, and refuse to let go. Even after I finished the novel, I tossed and turned for hours wondering about what happened next. I know I am one of many that hopes for a sequel.

One word of warning: This is very much a young adult book. It may be short and relatively easy to read, but the emotional impact may be too intense for children. When something is labelled as "young adult" for themes, it usually means it includes of one three things: sex, violence, or bad things happening to good people. I'll say this--it has no sex. But for those that are able to handle this emotional ride, it will be well worth it. Carol Lynch Williams manages to drag us through the depths of hells and yet somehow--somehow--leaves us believing in heaven.

I've debated over which rating to give this novel. I've read "perfect" novels before, but I've never read anything that is both this well-written and courageous. And when I look at the other novels I've given a four star rating to, I realized that they all are lacking in comparison to The Chosen One, either in writing style or emotional intensity. So I'm breaking my own rules, and giving The Chosen One a rating of its own. Never before has a novel rocked me to my very core like this one has.

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