Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Book Review: Sister Wife

Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka. (Grades 9+)

Celeste is about to turn fifteen, the age at which the Prophet will consult with God to assign her to a husband. She's in love with another boy at Unity, but she knows she will be in trouble if anyone finds out. Taviana was invited to Unity so she could get off the streets and clean up her act. She knows she doesn't really belong there, but she's grateful that she doesn't have to turn tricks to survive. Nanette is Celeste's younger sister and she has perfect faith. She's happy with the life she has at Unity and fears for her sister's immortal soul.

Celeste has two options: she can stay at Unity and live the life that the Prophet designs for her or she can leave Unity and break all ties with her family forever. Neither one is really a choice. And Celeste will have to find the balance between what she needs for herself and what her family needs from her.

I really enjoyed this book and the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. Lots of details bring the commune to life. Celeste and Nanette have grown up in a household with a father and his four wives. A wife's job is to take care of the house and have lots of children, so babies are everywhere. Women are married young to much older men and their schooling stops at about seventh grade.

As Celeste is trying to figure out what to do, she discovers rock statues along the river, made by a local boy. The statues seem impossible at first - rocks balanced precariously, forming tall towers. The statues become a metaphor for Celeste's life as she has to find the balance between betraying her family and betraying herself. She's also a "middle of the road" character, balanced between Taviana's knowledge of the wide world outside Unity and her sister's perfect devotion to the Movement.

There's an obvious comparison to be made with The Patron Saint of Butterflies, another 2008 book about teen girls in a religious commune, but the books are actually very different. While PSB was about the journey out of the commune, Sister Wife is about the heartwrenching decision to stay or to go.

I was excited to read this one after Amanda raved about it so, and I wasn't disappointed. I think this is one that will appeal to teens and adults alike. Check out Shelley's blog and read an interview with her to find out what inspired her to write this book.


MotherReader said...

Sounds fascinating!

Anonymous said...

I am learning about plenty of interesting YA novels since I started reading your blog. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I have The Patron Saints of Butterflies checked out from the library right now. And you've just convinced me to check this one out as well.

Anonymous said...

Sounds interesting! I recently read Escape, by Carolyn Jessop, about her life and eventual escape with her children from a plural marriage in a Mormon Fundamentalist community (same one that was in the news a lot this year, actually, led by Warren Jeffs). Upon turning 18, the daughter decided to return to the community. It's hard for me to fathom, but it was such a part of her life and belief system. I wonder if she'll stay forever or eventually follow her mother's example and start fresh outside.

Shelley Hrdlitschka said...

I am so glad you enjoyed Sister Wife. It took a 'leap of faith' to write, and I'm grateful to the wonderful reviewers who have enjoyed it and have shared their enthusiasm.
Thank you!
Shelley Hrdlitschka

Anonymous said...

Wow, that was one of the worst bboks I've ever read. I really don't mean to criticize the author, as she did a superb job of writing it. It was fast-paced, gripping, and up until the ending, one of the best books I've evr read. But by the time I'd reached to ending, I could not believe it! (I will not say exactly what i was disappointed with, so as not to spoil it for the rest of you) How on earth could she do that!! (Celeste, I mean, not Shelly Hrdlitschka) I finished it about ten minutes ago and am considering writing my own story, but with a way better ending!