Summary: Kyra is 13 and lives in a polygamous religious community known as The Chosen Ones. Her father has three wives. Kyra's brothers and sisters number in the double digits. While she loves her family, especially her newest little sister and her kind father, Kyra is curious enough about the outside world to secretly check out books from the public library bookmobile. She's also secretly in love with a boy her age, which is strictly forbidden. All marriages are arranged by The Prophet, the leader of the community. Kyra's life is thrown into crisis when The Prophet informs her she will marry her cruel uncle, who is fifty years her senior and has many wives already. Her attempts to circumvent this edict will bring violence and death into her life and force Kyra to choose between the life she has always known and a frighteningly unknown future outside her community...if she can even find a way to leave.
Plot: Williams goes for the jugular, showing all the darkest possible points of life in a religious compound. Kyra witnesses violence, infant abuse, and murder. At the same time, the book makes several references to life under the last Prophet, the current Prophet's father, who was a much kinder leader. The author does show that the fault lies in the management of this commune, not in commune life itself. The plot is an ever-tightening spiral with this basic structure: Kyra's baby sister cries in a meeting with the elders, and bad things happen. Kyra's father challenges the Prophet, and more bad things happen. Kyra's boyfriend challenges the Prophet, and even worse things happen. Kyra directly defies the community, and everything blows up in her face.
Characters: Kyra is a believable teenager. She's not crusading for women's rights, and she doesn't have any beef with her communities beliefs. No, she's just upset because she has to marry an old, dangerous man instead of the sweet boy she prefers. If she could have her choice of husband, she would be perfectly happy to settle down, work the land, and have as many babies as possible. While she does feel that her community should be more open (her mother is ill with pregnancy complications that modern medicine could easily solve,) Kyra isn't out to change the world. She's a victim with a strong will who is able to keep from giving in under duress.
The other characters are fairly two-dimensional. The bad guys are bad and twist the Bible's words to suit their aims. Her father is kind and loves her but will always accept The Prophet's word rather than leave the community. The boy she loves is just a sweet, perfect kid, and so on. The character I think readers will find most likable is the bookmobile driver, who tries to help Kyra but faces disastrous consequences. I could just see any of my guybrarian friends making the same choices he makes.
Writing: The writing is stripped-down and compulsively readable, but at the same time, it's extremely emotional. Kyra's fear and the tension of her situation radiate from the page without any frills, just brutal honesty. Kyra's trapped feelings had me so claustrophobic that her first escape attempt made me feel like I needed to drive really fast into the next county, too!
Pacing: Kyra's voice will fly the reader from beginning to end in no time. The story goes from pastoral to disturbing to death-defying in quick succession, and the continuing tension never gives the reader a breather.
Ending: The ending purposefully leaves many loose ends, which will frustrate some readers.
Cosmetic: I love the cover image. It's exposed, haunting, and timeless. I love how the girl's braid is slowly coming undone, just like Kyra's life does in the story.
What more did I want?: Better character development for everyone but Kyra. A longer page count wouldn't diminish this powerful story.
Bonus: Kyra's knight-in-shining-armor is a public librarian.