The Chosen One, by Carol Lynch Williams
St. Martin’s Griffin, May 2009
The idea of escape from captivity is often linked to coming of age in Young Adult literature. Whether we are thinking of ill cared for orphans, teens unexpectedly thrust into diabolical experiments in various dystopias, or more garden varieties of isolation and restraint, transcending those barriers lies at the heart of many young adult novels.
No book deals with this theme more powerfully than Carol Lynch Williams’ new, The Chosen One. Set in the Compound, an enclosed enclave of polygamists, the story is narrated by 13-year-old Kyra. The Compound is governed by The Prophet and his Elect, whose edicts are enforced by the Compound police force referred to as the God Squad. The elect live in luxurious homes with 6-7 wives, while the rank and file live in groups of trailers, each family group having one trailer per wife. Kyra’s father has three wives. He is a kind man, in fact his kindness is the very thing keeping him from ascending to the Elect.
The Compound’s society operates by crushing the will of young girls and marrying them off to the older men. Young men with the wrong temperaments are run off into the desert, while runaway girls are brutally punished but kept at all costs. Women are continually pregnant and children are trained to conform to authority and to accept their precise roles at all times. No contact with the outside world, neither via books nor any other medium is permitted.
The drama in the book unfolds as The Prophet announces that Kyra is to be married to her 60-year-old Uncle, who is one of the elect. Kyra’s life is centered around a number of crucial points. She loves her father, her mother and her siblings dearly. She is aware that lack of cooperation on her part will reflect on her father and that he and the rest of her family will be in danger of banishment on that count. She is in love with a boy, Joshua, her own age. Finally, at some point last year she stumbled on a traveling book mobile driving by the outskirts of the Compound. Kyra became friends with Patrick the librarian. Patrick lends her books which provide Kyra with a window into the outside world.
The power and the brilliance of The Chosen One lies in the strict intensity of its focus. What is the cost of freedom? Can freedom by achieved without outside intervention or is the personal struggle for it sufficient in itself? Lynch Williams retains the humanity of her characters, and clearly paints both the pull of staying against the desire for escape. As successive attempts by her father, Joshua, and finally Patrick, to save her from her fate are made to worse than no avail Kyra is forced to find hope and the will to escape against a backdrop of paralyzing consequences and despair.
The Chosen One succeeds in raising vital issues that are at the heart of growing up. The extremity of the Compound provides clarity and focus for Kyra’s dilemma, making it more applicable to readers in whose lives these issues are less immediate and direct. Whether sorting through their present or their past, few readers will leave the pages of The Chosen One unmoved.