Thirteen-year-old Kyra Leigh Carlson has spent her entire life inside the isolated compound of a religious cult. Until recently she hadn't really questioned the fact that her father has three wives and that she has twenty brothers and sisters. But ever since a new prophet took over, following the old prophet's death, things have been different. More things are forbidden, and there are rumors of violence, including murders. Kyra often goes on long walks into the desert surrounding the compound and on one of these occasions, she happens across the Ironton County Mobile Library on Wheels. After discovering all the wonders of the stories and other reading materials inside it, she starts to be more curious about the outside world and doubt the way things are done inside her own little world. She's also been secretly seeing Joshua, a boy she dreams of one day being able to choose as her husband rather than having one chosen for her. But when the prophet decrees that she must marry her sixty-year-old uncle who already has six wives, Kyra's entire world implodes. She knows that it's wrong and she doesn't think she can do it, but all efforts to prevent the marriage only lead to violence and threats against her and those defending her, leaving Kyra to make a desperate choice that may mean losing her family forever.
The Chosen One is a stand-alone YA contemporary novel about Kyra, a thirteen-year-old girl who's spent her whole life in the insular compound of a polygamist cult known as The Chosen Ones. For the most part, she's been content with her life and hasn't questioned it much. However, the group's elderly Prophet somewhat recently died and after that his son stepped into the role. The new Prophet Childs is far more strict than the old Prophet. He forced all the cult members to burn every book they owned with the exception of the Bible, and members' visits to the nearest town are now pretty rare. He also has a God Squad, brutish bullies who enforce his commands with violence. There are even whispers of them committing murder. Kyra is old enough to remember better days, so she doesn't like the Prophet much. The story opens with her family preparing for an honored visit from the Prophet, during which he declares that he's received a vision that Kyra is to become the seventh wife of Brother Hyrum, her own blood uncle who is fifty years her senior. From the moment the declaration is made, Kyra is resistant. She's been secretly meeting with a boy named Joshua for a while. She's fallen in love with him and was hoping that he would be the one she would marry. However, both her father's and Joshua's pleas to the Prophet on her behalf fall on deaf ears, eventually leading to harsh "discipline" for Joshua and Kyra and threats against her family. Throughout all of this, Kyra often likes to take walks through the desert surrounding their compound, and on one of her wanderings, she comes upon the Ironton County Mobile Library on Wheels. This bookmobile and all the wonderful stories in it become an escape from her troubled life, while showing her a window into a world she didn't know existed. With her wedding date looming closer every day and with no other escape in sight, Kyra begins to consider leaving her beloved family behind and trying to escape, but The Chosen Ones won't let her go easily.
Kyra is the first-person narrator and a strong, smart girl. It's clear from the opening line where she tells her baby sister she wants to kill the Prophet that she has a major beef with the guy. As all the atrocities he's committed allegedly in the name of God are revealed, I certainly couldn't blame her for her animosity. She tries to be a good, obedient girl, but between her own bright mind and the things she's learned from the reading materials in the bookmobile, she knows there's something inherently wrong with being told to marry her own uncle. She also knows other things, too, such as the fact that there's medical treatment that could help her mother who's having a difficult pregnancy that's left her sick all the time. Yet the Prophet has declared that modern medicine is of the devil and any woman who dies in childbirth is sinful. Kyra, like any girl her age, has started to notice boys and is sweet on one in particular, Joshua. He likes her, too, and they engage in a number of late-night rendezvouses in dark, quiet places around the compound where they share innocent kisses and make promises to each other that the Prophet makes impossible for them to keep. When the Prophet declares that Kyra is to marry her uncle, I admired her for fighting back even though she's bombarded from all sides by people trying to "put her in her place" and eventually by being literally beaten down. Even though inside she's incredibly frightened and sometimes uncertain about the course of action she's taken, she simply doesn't give up on forging her own destiny.
Since The Chosen One is classified as a YA novel, I'll discuss potentially objectionable content in this paragraph. There are a handful of times that hell is used as a profanity, but no other language issues. There's no drug or alcohol use. Although the term adultery is briefly discussed and Kyra thinks of how she can't even stand the idea of her uncle touching her, there's also no actual sexual content. So the most concerning things would be violence and an overarching sense of fear. There's a feeling of suspense surrounding whether Kyra will ever be able to escape her fate, which eventually leads to some nail-biting moments that I can't say too much about without giving away spoilers. Then there's the violence, which overall isn't rendered too graphically. It's more the fear that leads to a psychological response. However, there is a scene where an infant is "disciplined" for crying in the presence of the Prophet, nearly leading to her death. There's talk about murders that have taken place in the past, both of infants and girls, and the implication of a supporting character being killed in the story. There are other abuses, including Kyra herself being beaten, although after the first blow, it fades to black with the story taking up again afterward with the mention of all her injuries. There's also the twisted nature of the things the cult believes and how the Prophet keeps everyone under his thumb, which can be rather disturbing. So while the thirteen-year-old age of the protagonist might draw the interest of middle-grade kids, I'm not entirely sure if they would be old enough to handle the subject matter given that this isn't some fantasy world but one that really exists for some people. It would probably vary depending on the maturity of the child and whether they have parental or educator guidance available to help process it. That's why I would only recommend the book for older teens who I believe would have the maturity level to handle the more realistic nature of the story.
Overall, The Chosen One was a great read. It's by turns powerful, thought-provoking, heartbreaking, and anger-inducing. IMHO, the ability to elicit all of these emotions from the reader is the mark of good writing. Kyra is a strong, admirable heroine who eventually figures out that she must be her own hero no matter the cost. The Prophet and his God Squad made me want to jump into the story to give them a taste of their own medicine. Then there are Kyra's family members, who drew a certain sympathy from me. Her father seems like a good man who genuinely loves his family, while her mothers are generally good people as well, particularly Kyra's biological mother. Her siblings just try to please their parents, but I admired her sisters who share the same mother for standing up for her. On the one hand, I sometimes wanted to be angry with her parents for not doing more to protect her, but at the same time, it was obvious that deep down, they had some doubts of their own which they'd stuffed away. They're simply a product of their upbringing, never knowing another life besides the cult compound, and they've had fear-fear of the Prophet, losing everything, and/or going to hell-instilled in them from a young age. So they're stuck as well and perhaps unable to dredge up the courage Kyra has. The story is at times, tense and suspenseful, making me wonder if Kyra was going to find a way out. It was on track to receive five stars from me right up until the ending, which while hopeful, was a little too open-ended for my taste. I like everything wrapped up in a neat bow, but this one left me with many questions, which I'll have to answer on my own in a way that will satisfy me. I begrudgingly admit that real life isn't usually neat, so in that way, the book was sticking to it's more realistic tone. Otherwise, it was an excellent read, my first by Carol Lynch Williams, but most certainly not my last.
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