The Chosen One

chosenI’m sure that at some point in your life as a compulsive reader, someone has said to you, “I couldn’t put this book down. I had to stay up until two in the morning reading it because it was just that good. Today I feel like crap but it was so worth it.” Well, I am not that person. I am the person who, when she finally got her hands on her copy of the final volume of Harry Potter, managed to read almost one whole chapter before nodding off. I just cannot stay awake late at night with a book in front of me. It is more or less impossible. So last night, I cosied down in my bed and started reading The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams. Two hours later, I was still reading. Now that is something.

Kyra is thirteen years old. She lives with her father, his three wives and her twenty siblings in a religious community in the desert that is completely cut-off from the rest of the society. At the beginning of the story, it is clear that Kyra already feels different from her family. She doubts and fears the Prophet, their leader, “God’s Annointed.” She even imagines killing him, whispering this story to her baby sister when no one is around. This is not Kyra’s only transgression. She is a reader. She sneaks to the mobile library van that drives near her home every week to read forbidden books, hiding them away in a tree close to her family’s trailer. And then there’s Joshua, the boy she loves and meets in secret at night. As Kyra puts it, her sins are, “A plan. Books. And a boy.” Still, Kyra loves her family and she holds on to this love as all of the other ideas and feelings are building up inside her. One evening, the Prophet blesses Kyra’s family by visiting their house. The family thinks that this visit means that their father has been chosen to become an Apostle. Excitement turns quickly to disbelief when the Prophet announces that a husband has been named for Kyra. She is to marry her sixty-year old uncle. She will be his seventh wife. This proclamation marks the beginning of Kyra’s resistance, and forces her to choose between her family and community or a future that means freedom.

What’s most impressive about The Chosen One? It’s hard to know where to start, there’s so much that got me. Kyra is a character you will not forget. She is brave and wise and frightened and defenseless all at once. She is a dreamer, even though she really doesn’t know what exactly she is dreaming about beyond her enclosed world. You can’t decide if you want to protect her or push her onwards. This creates incredible tension. Lynch does not shy away from showing readers exactly how horrifying the “leaders” of the community are, and the lengths they will go to in order to control the community, particularly the women and children. The plot rips along, but not to the detriment of character. The book makes you wonder what you would do in the same situation. I think it is a title that is made for teen book clubs. Imagine the conversations if Moms read David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife while daughters read The Chosen One. I’d like to listen in to the discussions about faith and family and loyalty and self-preservation.

This book made the Indie-bound Summer 2009 Next List for Kids. My ARC came with a promo sampler of the Macmillan Audiobook, read by Jenna Lamia. Lamia’s voice sounds so young, which makes Kyra’s plight all the more intense and affecting. She reads with beautiful expression so that even after only the first 4 minutes, Kyra’s character comes vividly to life. I think it will be a great listen.

Other reviews:

The Compulsive Reader
Reading Rumpus
TeenReads.com

Here is a great interview with the author at Cynsations, and here is Carol chatting about the cover, at Melissa Walker’s blog.

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams is published by St. Martin’s Griffin.

4 thoughts on “The Chosen One

  1. Eilis

    I don’t get out of the fantasy and sf aisle very often when reading YA, but your description of how much this gripped you has made me want to check it out. Thanks!

  2. Mary Ann

    lovely review – I’ve read about this, and thought about this, and want to read it. My question is: would you recommend this to an 8th grader, or save it for high school?

  3. shelfelf Post author

    Mary Ann – the main character is 13, not that this necessarily means anything. I think a mature 8th grader would be able to handle it. The themes are intense, and there is violence and abusive situations, but it is presented in a way that many 13 year-olds could handle.

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