Sister Wife -- Shelley Hrdlitschka

Celeste was born into and raised within The Movement.  The people of The Movement live simply and keep themselves as separate from the rest of the world as they can.  The women are expected to obey the men, and everyone in Unity is expected to obey The Prophet, their leader.  Fifteen-year-old Celeste is about to be assigned a husband.  As tradition dictates, he will be much older than her, and she will not be his only wife.

SisterWife For some time now, Celeste has been questioning her situation.  Not only because she doesn't feel ready for marriage and she maybe wants to do something with her life other than be a wife, sister wife and mother, but also because she has feelings for a boy her own age.

After surviving an extremely difficult childhood, Taviana spent a few years living on the streets.  A man from Unity rescued her -- though the lifestyle is very different from anything she's ever known, living with the people of The Movement makes he feel safe.

But her presence at Unity is attracting unwanted attention from the local authorities, and her personality and knowledge of the outside world is causing problems within the community.  She knows that her new-found home isn't permanent.

Through Celeste and Taviana's voices (as well as Nanette, Celeste's sister), Sister Wife tells a story about a community in which "the greatest freedom is obedience", about rebellion, family and finding the right place in the world.  And it's about how the right place in the world is different for different people.

There are few things that turn me off faster than that old ripped-from-the-headlines feeling*.  The copy on the back of the book even proclaims that the book is "torn from the headlines and inspired by current events..."!  So Sister Wife and I had an uphill battle from the beginning.  I did find, though, that despite some issues, it was a book I found very difficult to put down.

I think that the author made a real effort to tell this story, to write about polygamy, without bias.  In the case of the teen characters, I think she mostly succeeded.  They portray a range of opinions and perspectives, they make different choices and have different reasons for doing so.  In the case of the adults, I felt that she was less successful:  a couple of the men were sympathetic and Celeste's father's behavior was somewhat understandable but the Prophet himself was so clearly bad news that he was just too much for me.  The women mostly just blurred together and while they mostly seemed content with their lives, I found it difficult to draw any conclusion other than that they'd gotten a raw deal**. 

While the different perspectives made for a fuller view of the situation, I didn't feel that the voices themselves stood out all that much from each other.  But, other than a few over-the-top bits (I generally stink at the metaphor game, but Celeste looking at tulips that are "practically trembling as they prepared to explode into bloom" was just too much and Taviana's moment of truth when she realized she had to get out of the drugs and prostitution lifestyle due to a serial killer was way way way too much) and a couple instances of my current favorite thing to complain about, ridiculous dialogue***, I didn't have any huge issues with the writing.  As I said, I had a hard time putting it down.  Recommended for teens who like the issues and who like books about Hot Topics.


*There is a reason I avoid Jodi Picoult.

**And I realize that this was a large part of the point of Nanette's storyline:  She was happy and content with her life.  So a good part of my conclusion-drawing, I'm sure, comes from my own inability to take a step back and keep my own mindset and opinions out of it.  Sigh.  It's hard to be objective.

***So the Prophet says to Celeste's father: 

"I don't need to explain to you why we can't be drawing attention to Unity, especially police attention." 

Okay.  That makes sense.  But then he continues...

"Surely you remember what happened in '92, when all our children were dragged from their beds in the night and taken to Springdale?" 

Okay.  This is making less sense.  Because clearly Celeste's father was there.  But I could still give that a pass -- it's like everyone around here was talking about the Ice Storm of '98 last week.  But then he keeps going and going:

"Reporters and police officers descended upon our little community, and our faith became the target of vicious accusations.  Pictures of us were splashed on the front pages of newspapers right across the nation.  It's taken us years to put that event behind us and carry on living the simple peaceful life we strive for."

No one talks like that.  No one.  Not when the speaker is talking to someone who was there, who went through it.  It isn't even remotely necessary.  Anyway.  I know it probably doesn't seem like a big deal, but it's the kind of thing that makes me crazy.

Books -- YALeila RoyComment