Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Book Review: The Chosen by Carol Lynch Williams


Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated polygamous community without questioning her father’s three wives and her twenty brothers and sisters. Or at least without questioning them much—if you don’t count her secret visits to the Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her meetings with the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of having a man chosen for her. But when the Prophet decrees that Kyra must marry her 60-year-old uncle—who already has six wives—Kyra must make a desperate choice in the face of violence and her own fears of losing her family.


Powerful, gutting, and twisted, The Chosen One is a no holds barred look into a polygamist community. This is one of the first books I’ve read in a good while that has really tangled my emotions, shifting the way I think of things. As someone not raised in such a society, my initial thoughts were disgust. With even the first introduction of not only Kyra’s father’s three wives but also the long list of children he’s fathered between them, my own perceptions were narrowed and repulsed.

As the book progresses, however, Williams does an astounding job casting Kyra’s entire family into a sympathetic light. There is a very stark contrast between Richard, her father, and his brother Hyrum. While Richard takes a very loving route, even in discipline and keeping his wives and children obedient, Hyrum is very much on the tough love, physical side. Williams doesn’t keep this cloaked, adding in a few wrenching scenes that really bring out this difference. Despite being a part of this community and having three wives, Richard is a great father and a kind man. He loves his wives and his children, and he is abiding by the rules and beliefs set forth by the same community he was raised in.

Kyra is an uncommon character because of the community she was raised in, mature past her chronological age as a result. At thirteen, she’s helped raise her full and half siblings, been raised to know she will one day be chosen and placed with a man as one of his wives, and is heavily relied on by her mothers. Though she has one older sister, Emily isn’t mentally on the same level as the others, rendering Kyra as the oldest girl. The responsibilities because of it come off easily, creating a strong sense of the world she lives in. She is strong willed and determined but very calculating; perceptive and intelligent but still rash in some of her decisions.

Her struggle with her devotion to her family and her unwillingness to be married to her sixty year old uncle is a poignant, captivating, and visceral one. The intense love she feels towards her father, her birth mother, and her siblings comes through as one of the most notable elements of the story. Marrying anyone, not just her uncle, means leaving her family. Though the girls are married off young in her community, there is still that childlike part of Kyra who wants to stay with her sister and best friend. She can't imagine being away from her mother, leaving everything she’s known for years. Her responsibilities will be massively shifted, her entire world and daily routines altered to cater to her new husband.

There is a bold mix of rebellious and obedient in Kyra, rooted in her family ties. Threats against her family hold potential to bind her, tie her down and resign her to the future she doesn't want. It is incredibly difficult to read her entire struggle, along with the reactions of her family. The community, as a whole, is a very different one, run by one person given power through birth. The Prophet Childs is the one to deem Kyra as the seventh wife of Hyrum, and he uses brute strength and violence throughout the community to force obedience.

Many scenes in this book are brutal and rough to read, made harder by the general feelings most readers will have going into this book because of their own opinions and world views. It is very difficult to swallow and accept this way of life without ever having been immersed in it. To the masses, these polygamist societies are wrong and it’s hard to get such an insiders’ perspective on them. This is further compounded by how much Kyra fights it- and how little hope she has in actually winning.

The book is told in alternating bits of the present and the past, bringing up other characters, her childhood, and her trips beyond the Compound to check out books- something banned in her community- from the mobile library. Her interaction with a boy of the community also comes into play, helping to drive the current parts of the plot as well. Though the time span changes rapidly, it helps to break up the intense emotion which is infused throughout the entire book. Despite how hard it is to read much of this book, Williams breaks it up enough to let the reader keep going. I read it straight through without stopping, gripped by Kyra’s story and my own burning desire to know if she could avoid marriage to Hyrum.

The ending is incredibly bittersweet but unabashedly fitting for the book. Though there could be several outcomes, each has a multitude of negative aspects. In essence, Kyra is in a no win situation because no matter what happens, it will not be perfect. Will she escape, or die trying? Will her family suffer more for her actions? Will she end up with Hryum, forced to be another wife and at his complete service? Will she be broken? These are a few of the driving forces throughout the book, some of them open until the end. There are unanswered questions at the end regarding a few things but the reader is left in the same mental state as Kyra, overcome with emotion and trying to process everything that has happened.

This is a profound book that is near impossible to adequately explain. I am both in awe of and applauding Williams for broaching this topic and handling it so masterfully. Her writing is fantastic, giving a strong voice to Kyra while still showing the reader the full scope of the community she lives in. The impact of their beliefs and views and the power a few hold over the others come through in a way that is memorable and gripping. This is a book that has forced me to rethink things- and also be grateful for the way I was raised. Despite its somewhat grotesque nature, its vividness, and its gutting effects, I highly recommend this book to anyone that can stomach it.

Source: Library
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1 edition (May 12, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0312555113

Author's Website


  1. I loved your review of this book. You are right in that this book is expertly written and suspenseful. I kept hoping against hope that she was going to make it out. It felt so realistic and dangerous to me. To think that this story is all too true for young girls in our own country is maddening!

  2. I absolutely loved this book- I think it was a real eye opener. Great, in depth review! :)

  3. I felt the same way as you. It was a powerful book. Interesting Review!

  4. This sounds fabulous. I've seen it at the library and haven't bothered to pick it up. After reading your review, I definitely want to read it!

  5. Fabulous review; I absolutely loved this book when I read it and agree with a lot of the points you made, especially regarding the relationship Kyra has with her family.

  6. I've had this on my wishlist for a while. Your review is just awesome -- it really motivates me to go and check it... I also think it's a great premise that I havent read before in YA

  7. I really liked this book a lot when i read it as well! It's so nice to see it getting such great reviews!

  8. I loved this book, and your review on it is fantastic. I am glad to see you enjoyed it as well :)

  9. Wonderful review for a book I hadn't heard of before, thanks for posting...I plan to read it soon =)