Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Few are chosen

The Chosen One could have been really sensational and cheesy, Big Love for the teenaged set. Fortunately it isn't. Carol Lynch Williams has written a book for any teenager, not just those with an unhealthy curiosity about polygamy. Like any young heroine, Kyra is searching for her identity and thinking about becoming independent. She's already pretty strong-minded, which is ultimately the quality that helps her succeed in her search.

Kyra lives with her father, her three mothers, and 20 brothers and sisters in the not-too-successful end (a group of trailers) of a controlling polygamist community led by the Prophet Childs. She manages to sneak out to meet the local bookmobile, where the librarian gives her books she knows she's not supposed to be reading; she makes chaste midnight assignations with a boy named Joshua; and she frequently dreams about killing the Prophet. Still, she loves her large family, and seems to have faith that the order of her community is the right one.

Until she is told by the Prophet that she will marry her much-older uncle, the Apostle Hyrum. At first she tries reason and then rebellion. At this point, she is physically beaten; but her spirit stays strong and she makes an exciting, daring escape in the bookmobile. (Alas, the librarian is gunned down, but hey, there's not much we won't do for our patrons!) Once free, Kyra is quick to realize that she has only taken the first step; still, her ending is a hopeful one.

Jenna Lamia, whose performance in The Adoration of Jenna Fox was a big favorite among the Amazing Audiobooks listeners last year, narrates this first-person novel. Everytime I've listened to her, I am impressed again at how effectively she uses her sweet, whispery voice (which you wouldn't initially think of as an asset for a narrator). She sounds authentically youthful and innocent as Kyra; the confusion she feels at the Prophet's instruction is palpable. I never doubted her love for her family, but there's a steeliness there as well. Lamia knows how to tell a good story, too, as she reads this novel's breathless, exciting conclusion with tension and expert pacing.

The audiobook concludes with a well-produced and interesting interview between the author and another writer and professor of children's literature, Michael Tunning (omg ... on last year's Newbery Committee). And I would like to comment more about the interview and the book, but it's week and four audiobooks later, so here's another interview with Williams.

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