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The Chosen One

The Chosen One - Carol Lynch Williams It’s something of an understatement to say that this book was captivating – it’s almost too gentle or whimsical a word to describe the way I was completely gripped from the first page. And that’s not just a bit of zealous-reviewer hyperbole on my part. Whether I was actively reading The Chosen One or passing time until I could pick it up again (also known as “working”) it occupied my mind. Possessed my thoughts. Demanded my attention. I don’t approach books that deal with complex subjects (in this case, polygamy and abuse amongst others) without some trepidation. As a reader, I want to see issues handled with respect and compassion, as opposed to them simply being used to cheaply manipulate or entertain without consideration given to the subtext that might be conveyed. And The Chosen One certainly contains confronting, emotionally-gruelling content. The story is related by thirteen year old Kyra, raised in a fundamentalist Christian compound that has become progressively insular and cloistered under the vision of Prophet Childs. With surreptitious visits to a mobile library as her only connection to life outside the compound, Kyra is compelled to make a choice about her life when she is informed she must marry her sixty-year-old uncle and become his seventh wife. Rather than merely a simple fight or flight decision, Kyra’s situation is complicated by her loyalties, concerns for her younger sisters’ futures and very real fears that retribution will be visited upon her family. If Miles From Ordinary alerted me to the quiet power of Carol Lynch William’s sparse prose, The Chose One further confirmed that her writing is exceptional. Stripped of overly descriptive embellishments and unwieldy passages, Lynch Williams writes with economy and grace, a style that is almost verse-like at times. This clean, succinct approach works well, keeping the story close to Kyra and preventing a sensationalist tone from overshadowing the themes of the book. Kyra’s voice is sheltered yet somehow also mature, and Lynch Williams captures not just the naivety, but the responsibility and fear that Kyra experiences as the effective oldest daughter of the family. There is a genuinely unsettling atmosphere to the book, particularly as the compound begins to feel almost a sort of panopticon, and Kyra’s sense of being watched seeps through the text. It’s difficult to read about the implied and explicit coercion and threat that dominates life in Kyra’s world, the violence and abuse that underpin and enforce the strict moral codes. However, rather than painting Krya’s life in shades of black and white, loving familial bonds are also depicted. Her father, with three wives and twenty children, is not portrayed as a one-note villain, but rather a devoted yet ultimately powerless, manipulated man. The empathy (however impotent) Kyra receives from one of her Mothers is unexpected and touching. The sibling relationships are warm and supportive. While it may be argued that the nuance in Lynch Williams’ portrayal of polygamy is too subtle, I found her particular take both appropriate and effective for its purpose in Kyra’s story. If I have a particular hesitation with this story, it’s that on occasion the plot was progressed at the cost of a certain amount of believability. I found it difficult to believe that Kyra could acquire so much knowledge about the outside world from her brief mobile library visits and fleeting comments made her Mothers. Having been born into and grown up within the confines of her compound, which vehemently decries the outside world, Kyra’s acceptance of certain facts seemed to happen with too much ease.Aside from that minor quibble, The Chosen One was a powerful, moving book. As it draws inexorably towards the ending, which is fittingly heart-wrenching, I found myself completely invested in the characters and Kyra’s choice. The Chosen One is a story that doesn’t make sweeping pronouncements, give all the answers, or tie off neatly. It leaves lingering questions, room for speculation and a note of ambiguity regarding the characters. That said, it’s also a brave and hopeful book that beautifully examines choice, loss, courage and love.