Friday, January 13, 2012

Sister Wife review

Sister Wife
by Shelley Hrdlitschka
Orca Book Publishers
October 2008

This is a story of a modern-day polygamous fundamentalist Mormon compound. In alternating chapters, readers get the perspective of 15 year-old Celeste, who is struggling with the idea that she'll be given in marriage to a much older man soon, her 13 year-old sister Nanette, who can't wait to get married and start a family of her own, and Taviana, a 17 year-old runaway and former prostitute who has sought asylum in the community.

Celeste confesses that she's been having "impure thoughts" about a boy her own age, Jon. My heart broke for her when she revealed that her thoughts were of things like, splashing their feet in a creek, or holding hands in a meadow. That's so sweet and innocent! She's been heavily brainwashed, but is actively looking for a way out. Nanette is straight-up creepy. Readers who enjoyed Wither by Lauren deStefano will be reminded of Cecily. It sent a shiver down my spine, reading the pages where Nanette flirts with their neighbor, Martin Nielson, who I believe is old enough to be her father. She even begs her father permission to get married early, as if 16 wasn't young enough! Nanette is enraged when Celeste is promised to Martin - which also struck me as odd, as I was under the impression that it was common for husbands to marry sisters in polygamous households.

Ordinarily, I love a book with alternating chapters, but the three girls didn't feel distinct enough for me, particularly Taviana. With the rough life that she's led, I expected her to sound much less girlish than the other two. It seemed like Taviana was just looking for a place to lay low from the law until she turned 18. I thought she'd sound much more cynical. I had trouble picturing a teen with that kind of backstory so easily and sweetly helping with chores and so on. Primarily, Taviana exists to present information about the outside world to Celeste. They are so isolated on the compound, even the most common pop-culture references or technology is a mystery to them. I got frustrated with Celeste's delays to make good her escape, but the novel does a great job of showing what a difficult decision this is for her - it's her whole life, her family, everything she knows, and she's thinking of cutting herself off forever to go into the great unknown modern (possibly sinful) world.  Despite a few flaws, I really enjoyed this book. There's a whole genre out there of "escape from arranged marriages" so I'll put this in the hands of readers who enjoy dystopian YA with that theme.

I borrowed this book from the library.


  1. Have you read the Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams? It's very similar and nail-bitingly good. Her characters always jump out of the page at you. Carol is a Mormon (a member of the Church of Jesus Christ), not the fundamentalist religion that broke off from the original church and practices polygamy. There'a a huge difference between the two religions.

  2. Yes, I have read it and reviewed it.

    I think it might be more accurate to say that the modern Mormons broke off from the fundamentalists, rather than the other way around... but yes, this book is about the fundamentalists, obviously.



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