Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Only Choice Is Sympathy: A Review of The Chosen One

The Chosen One
Carol Lynch-Williams
St. Martin Griffin

When I got an email asking me if I wanted a review copy of The Chosen One, I was pleased. Then, I thought about what it meant to read and review a new release that has gotten favorable early reviews. I’ve given this real thought and effort. I look forward to hearing if you find something useful in my review.

The Chosen One is a sympathetic tale. It’s about 13-year-old Kyra who has been told she must marry her 60-year-old uncle, an Apostle among the Chosen Ones. The story is the archetype of a clear victim and bus load of bad guys. In this case, they’re church leaders, nasty old men who want child brides. It’s about a practice that the majority of society frowns upon- polygamy. All this adds up to a pretty straightforward tale of personal courage, harrowing action and a hopeful ending. The expectations are formed before you even begin the read. While I expected a tearjerker I also hoped for depth, some layers or revelations about the faith and its members. What the author provides are secondary characters who add additional opportunities for the reader to sympathize: a budding romance busted up, a miscarriage and Kyra’s family threatened. Speaking of secondary characters, Kyra has two older brothers. Where are they in all this? Why introduce these characters but not give them roles in the novel?

The contemporary story mirrors what has been published already about fringe religious communities. While Kyra’s point-of-view is honest, she provides no insights or an intimate view of the faith which would help the reader understand why followers embrace the faith. The story never gets complicated. Kyra is a sympathetic character. You want her to escape and she does. But emotion alone cannot carry a novel. Not for this reader. Kyra can play Mozart, but this story fails to rise above more than a children’s song. There is no duplicity, no shades of good and evil. There is only a single note: root for Kyra. The entire novel focuses on how Kyra feels and how she escapes.

One reviewer commented that she doubted Kyra could have used a cell phone so easily, but we know that the sect did not shun technology. They had computers and wide screens in the offices. Families didn’t have access but it’s not far-fetched to think they’ve never used them. They weren’t always closed off. And Patrick, the driver who tries to help her gives Kyra pretty easy directions to how to use it. More troubling for me is the escape scene. We know from Kyra that the God Squad has killed members or run them off before, and being a closed community they could get away with it, but Patrick is an outsider, a man with a family. He is a county employee. His absence would draw attention from authorities. Why would the God Squad treat Kyra differently than Ellen the adulterer or the boys they’ve dropped off in the desert to die? Kyra has been warned, beaten and her family threatened. By the time she attempts the escape why isn’t she killed? Because not killing her means a happy ending and that feels grossly contrived to me.

Lastly, the transitions between scenes often felt stilted or abrupt. The additional white spacing was not an effective segue to new thoughts or scenes. At times I had to re-read the last line of preceding paragraphs to see if I missed a transition. Stylistically, the writing is competent but there aren’t any memorable lines and the construction is not impressive. The inner dialogue and brief accounts of past memories are either too brief or awkward. They add little. The Chosen One does tug your heartstrings. If you enjoy a tearjerker and emotion is enough, you’ll enjoy this. I had hoped for more.


Anonymous said...

Interesting review. It is funny how often writers add characters and then sort of "forget" about them!

Summer said...

Great review. I'm happy to read your take on the book. I liked that you looked at it on this level, which is worth examining. I haven't read this book yet but I have read plenty of reviews on it. I think other reviewers said that they weren't overly impressed but none of them expressed why like you did. I think this must have been a difficult book to write, especially being outside of such a situation. I admire the author for taking on such a subject. It sounds like the book was written not just to be sensational even if it sort of misses the mark on bringing the kind of depth to the situation that some readers may want.

susan said...

Summer, I don't think Ms. Lych-Williams meant to be sensational. I think she went with what she found compelling, the mistreatment and hope that girls can escape the life.

Ana S. said...

I haven't read the book, but I can imagine myself having a similar reaction. I tend to prefer books that are more nuanced. And it does sound like the ending was a bit forced.

sarah said...

I haven't read this book, but I really liked your review because the craft of review writing isn't always handled well, and you do it well here. You are honest but not unfair, you treat the book indepth but honour the level it is at - really well done.

Mayra Lazara Dole said...

i appreciate well-thought-out reviews even when a reviewer doesn't enjoy the book. you did an outstanding job on focusing on the weakness you found without trashing the book! Congrats!