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Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka

July 11, 2010 1 comment

I found this book in the stacks while looking for Jessica Day George.  The title jumped out at me; I recognized that term from the polygamist community in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona.

As a member of the LDS faith, polygamy was practiced in our church’s history, but was discontinued when it was outlawed by the federal government.  Those who wished to continue the practice broke off to form a new religion, now commonly referred to as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS).

This book is a work of fiction, but it based on this real community of people.

Here’s the summary from the publisher’s website:

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.

Celeste was born and raised in Unity, yet she struggles to fit in. Perhaps it’s because of Taviana, the girl who has come to live with them and entertains Celeste with forbidden stories, or Jon, the young man she has clandestine meetings with, or maybe it’s the influence of Craig, the outsider she meets on the beach. Whatever it is, she struggles to accept her ordained life. At fifteen she is repulsed at the thought of being assigned to an older man and becoming a sister wife, and she knows for certain she is not cut out to raise children. She wants something more for herself, yet feels powerless to change her destiny because rebelling would bring shame upon her family.

Celeste watches as Taviana leaves Unity, followed by Jon, and finally Craig, the boy who has taught her to think “outside the box.” Although she is assigned to a caring man, his sixth wife, she is desperately unhappy. How will Celeste find her way out of Unity?

Torn from the headlines and inspired by current events, Sister Wife is a compelling portrait of a community where the laws of the outside world are ignored and where individuality is punished.

Here are my issues with this book– I think this topic is a little too much for a young adult book.  I agree with a reviewer from CM Magazine that said the sensitive areas are handled well, but I question why write a book about it at all?  So I guess I don’t understand the motivation behind this book.  I don’t think teenagers want to read about polygamy, nor do I think they really should.

Secondly, I don’t know (and I don’t know if anyone can know) how close to the truth this portrayal is.  It seems, from what I know about members of the FLDS faith that I’ve seen on TV, to not be that far off.    From all the kind-hearted people in the story, I certainly hope their community is like that.

Thirdly, I spent most of this book feeling sorry for Celeste and the other women in the story.  And for the teenage boys, too.  But I guess I feel sorry for them in real life, as well.

It was an interesting book, and I was happy that the author included a perspective from a girl who was happy and even excited to be a “sister wife.”  And although I couldn’t relate to her character at all, I hope that many of the real FLDS women feel the way she does.  For the sake of their own happiness.

I hope that all made sense.  This is a touchy topic and while I don’t agree with polygamy, marrying off young girls to older men or willfully breaking a federal law, I hope that the people (particularly the women and children) in the FLDS church are happy and safe.

I’m going to give this book 2.5 stars for being interesting, but I don’t know if I would really recommend it to anyone.

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