I bring this up because I just read two recent teen books that take place in fundamentalist polygamous communities. I decided to review them together, along with a nonfiction book on the topic that I read several years ago. The fictional stories are all the more heartwrenching because they are based on how real girls and women are living in actual communities in our country.
Click on the covers to find library copies of the books.
The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated community without questioning the fact that her father has three wives and she has twenty brothers and sisters, with two more on the way. That is, without questioning it much---if you don’t count her secret visits to the Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her meetings with Joshua, the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of having a man chosen for her. But when the Prophet decrees that she must marry her sixty-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 forever. What I appreciate about this author is that she is obviously writing from a familarity with general Mormon culture, but also did her research to make this book about fundamentalists entirely believable. The author does not gloss over the control and violence issues created by the Prophet's increasingly secretive and paranoid ways. The action in this story builds up to an extremely tense climax, which moved me to tears several times. (And not just because of the heroic librarian!) This book will make you thankful for the freedoms you enjoy, and hopeful for the teen girls and boys in these communities.
Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka
In the isolated rural community of Unity, the people of The Movement live a simple life guided by a set of religious principles and laws that are unique to them. Polygamy is the norm, strict obedience is expected, and it is customary for young girls to be assigned to much older husbands. At fifteen, Celeste is repulsed at the thought of becoming a sister wife, yet feels ashamed for craving the attention of Jon, a boy her age. Not knowing much about the outside world, she feels powerless to change her destiny. Her assignment as a sixth wife to a caring man makes her desperately unhappy, but rebelling will bring shame, and possibly punishment, upon her family. Celeste must decide what she is willing to sacrifice...her family or herself. Although the basic plot sounds a lot like The Chosen One, this book is set apart by several characteristics. It is told from the perspectives of three teen girls, which adds layers of understanding to the story. It is also a gentler story overall, and Celeste's eventual path feels like more of a choice than an act of utter desperation. This book is true to the details of life in a fundamentalist community, and will engage you as you realize how different and alike you are at the same time from the characters.
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
This book surprised me when I read it five years ago, and some of the content has really stuck with me over time. Jon Krakauer researched a crime committed by Mormon Fundamentalists, and in the process revealed a lot of information about the history of such groups and their current practices. One thing that made me particularly sad was the plight of young men in polygamous communities. A lot of them are driven out of their communities and away from their families for reasons that boil down to supply and demand. They are seen as a liability in a group that marries off multiple women to a single (usually older) man. Not everything Krakauer says about the Mormon church in general is entirely accurate, but I appreciated the light he shed on fundamentalist sects in this writing. It provided a good background that really helped my understanding and empathy for the characters in the two books reviewed above.