"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hidden Wives by Claire Avery

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Summary: Two young sisters in a polygamous community are struggling with the husbands they're assigned by their compound's Prophet. 

Teenaged Rachel and her slightly younger sister Sara have been raised in a fundamental polygamous community in Utah. At 16 and 17, their short-tempered and perpetually angry father takes them to the Prophet to hear who has received “heavenly” testimonies to marry the girls.

Sara has been assigned to her father’s older brother, Sara’s own uncle. Rachel is shocked but believes that the testimony must be correct. Then Rachel is told 16 different men in the community request her hand in marriage. The Prophet must pray on Rachel’s best future husband. According to their father, Rachel is a seductress and a whore and requires the devil to be beat out of her. As Rachel is locked in her room, reflecting on her evil ways, Sara’s former best friend summons Sara to be with her as she gives birth.

Sheltered Sara is shocked by the birthing process and horrified when her friend’s baby is born severely deformed and left to die. The midwife mutters something about inbreeding and Sara, who has never been taught biology in the community’s school, wonders if there are any health risks when you have a child with a relative. What would happen to Sara’s babies if she married her uncle?

Adding to the inner turmoil is the attraction Rachel feels for the son of a wealthy new family who has joined the cult. Rachel and handsome and headstrong Luke feel drawn to each other, but Rachel knows it’s forbidden if Luke doesn’t receive a testimony from God. When Luke tells the Prophet of his testimony, Luke is banished from the compound, gone forever, like so many other boys on the verge of manhood. Only after oh-so-beautiful Rachel is raped by her own father (!) do the girls execute a tense and rapid escape out west.

Sara and Rachel slowly expand their lives, their minds and their choices, experiencing major culture shock and the aftermath of the trauma they survived.

The writing was solid, but the terror of the story would have been just as vivid without the Rachel’s rape by her father. That scene, and its aftermath, put the whole book over the top for me.

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