The press release that came with my review copy of The Chosen One suggests that it is for age 12+ so I was expecting a typically lightweight, easygoing teen read. The cover and the hard-edged coming-of-age theme seemed bizarrely similar to another recent teen read I've just reviewed, Jaclyn Moriarty's Dreaming of Amelia (review here). I was therefore totally unprepared for the brutally intense emotional rollercoaster I was about to embark on.
The simply-told novel tells the story of 13-year-old Kyra who lives in an isolated polygamist community. Her life may seem strange to us, with her three "mothers" and the strict rules imposed by the self-proclaimed "prophet", but it is all Kyra has ever known so, on the odd occasions she actually gets to set foot into the world outside, it is the girls and boys her own age with their "satanic" clothes, their tattoos and their pierced eyebrows who seem strange and dangerous to her. Despite her unusual lifestyle, Kyra seems happy enough and we have no need to be judgemental of the community she lives in.
In some ways, Kyra is just like any other teenage girl and the usual girl-meets-boy scenario starts to unfold. However, when the prophet announces that she has been chosen by God to become the seventh wife to a man not only some fifty years older than her but also her very own uncle, her fragile happiness is shattered and her whole world is thrown into doubt.
Depicted through the eyes of Kyra, her innocence and unquestioning acceptance of the things around her only leads the reader to feel even more indignant that the "prophet" who has forced his followers to burn every last book from their shelves, even the harmless children's stories, deeming them filled with the Devil's words, has two walls covered in bookshelves, not to mention a huge TV and several computers, in his own luxurious abode. Although the community originally appeared to be a relatively happy place to live under the previous prophet, it has evolved into a sect ruled by a new "prophet", who is little more than a merciless thug, and his acolytes known as the God squad, based on fear and sickening violence rather than faith. However open-minded he may be, the reader cannot help but despise the lifestyle Kyra depicts.
This may be a teen read narrated by a child but it is nevertheless extremely hard-hitting, maybe more so because of the innocence and purity of the narrator. Some of the images will stay with you long after you have turned the final page. Perhaps it is because I am a mother of a 1-year-old myself but seeing the sobbing mother being forced to "discipline" her crying baby by forcing her underwater in a tub of iced water until her lips turn blue and she stops breathing was heartbreaking and almost unbearable to read.
The narrative is so realistic that I actually went to read the back of the book to see if it's based on a true story. It isn't but it could be - and sadly probably is, in many places in the world. The novel is understated and doesn't take the moral highground so it would be a fantastic book for classroom study or bookgroup discussion. It is impossible to read the story and not be moved.
Much of the story is a will-she-won't-she drama as Kyra desperately considers the possibilty of running away, at the risk of her life, but this also merges into a should-she-shouldn't-she dilemma, for Kyra as well as the reader, as we realise the extent of the horrific repercussions that her "selfish" act will probably have on the family she leaves behind.
My one criticism, which is actually more of a compliment, is that I desperately wanted a final chapter - or even better, a follow-up novel - to see what happens in the months and years following the closing pages. I have never read such a chilling, haunting, heart-breaking novel and was astounded at how emotionally involved you can become with a character in such a short, 200-odd page novel. It may be quick to read but it certainly won't be quick to forget. It's an incredibly powerful and ultimately empowering read.
star rating : 5/5 (but I won't be letting 9-year-old Sophie read it because certain scenes are so evocative and harrowing)
RRP : £6.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Childrens Books (5 Aug 2010)
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