For most of the women inside Pine-ridge, an isolated compound of Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints in Utah, keeping sweet (“obedience with a willing and happy heart”) is their ultimate duty before God. Underage marriages, strict rules of conduct (unwavering devotion to the prophet, a birth every year after marriage, seclusion from the outside world), and a polygamist lifestyle are not only enforced, but embraced. But when 14-year-old Alva Jane is caught kissing a boy she hopes to wed, a vicious beating and a grave punishment—to become the sixth wife of the prophet's brother, a sadistic man 40 years her senior—exposes the community's capacity for brutality. Like Carol Lynch Williams's The Chosen One (2009), which explored similar territory, Greene's (Chasing the Jaguar) account of Alva Jane's progression from naïve disciple to skeptic is gripping, horrifying, and convincing. However, the story's climax (Alva Jane's second escape attempt) feels rushed and underdeveloped, leaving several plot points—a sudden police raid on Pineridge, Alva Jane's pregnancy, and the possibility of a new life for her in the outside world—frustratingly unexplored. Ages 14–up. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"Real elements of the FLDS experience add contemporary authenticity. Readers may simply relish the peek over the wall into a lifestyle very different from their own." The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April 2010
"Accessible and compelling." –School Library Journal, April 1, 2010
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Alva Jane, 14, lives in the claustrophobic environment of a polygamist compound. She bakes bread for her father's 7 wives and 29 children before heading off to the provincial compound school. Math-smart, she has been allowed some minor freedoms including working in the community's store and studying with one of the older boys. Alva Jane's awakening begins with her attraction to her math tutor, kindhearted John Joseph, who seems headed for leadership within the power structure of the cult. The attraction is mutual and the two secretly plan to start a life together as soon as he can get permission and she is ready to be sealed in marriage, which is determined by her first menses. But their plans do not account for the designs of the older men or the resentment of Sister Cora, the first wife of Alva Jane's father. When she catches the young couple in a forbidden kiss, Alva Jane is beaten, imprisoned, and married off to a violent older man. Throughout her degradation, she does not lose hope for escape, and her critical faculties continue to develop, despite the pressure to "keep sweet" and obedient to the dominant men. Carol Lynch Williams's The Chosen One (St. Martin's, 2009) is primarily a thriller based on escape from a cult. Shelley Hrdlitschka's Sister Wife (Orca, 2008) takes a more layered look at the loyalties that bind girls to family and compound. Like these books, Greene's novel portrays a girl who ultimately leaves home and polygamy behind. It is both accessible and compelling.—Carolyn Lehman, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA
Read an Excerpt
“Alva Jane, meet me behind the barn before dark,
I have something important to tell you.…”
I CLOSED MY EYES AT THE MEMORY OF JOSEPH JOHN’S face, flushed with excitement as he whispered those words to me—the words that changed my life forever. Beside the barn washed white by the sun, Joseph John had taken my hand and said the words I had been waiting to hear. His father had agreed to our marriage; he planned to speak to my father and the prophet that very evening.
I knew I shouldn’t do it, that it was wrong, but I felt a rush of such excitement and joy that I couldn’t help it: I kissed him quickly, my lips brushing lightly over his, feeling their softness and searching as he leaned in to me. And then came Sister Cora’s voice and a rough hand on my collar. I lost my balance and fell headlong into the nightmare I am living now.
One kiss brought me here, locked in this pitch-black root cellar beneath the barn. I shivered; the evening temperature always drops in the desert. I heard the scurrying of rats overhead and moved away from the corner where I had been crouching. I was unable to lean or lie down, my legs felt stiff, my knees raw. I could feel the welts on my legs and back oozing blood. The sacred undergarments beneath my cotton dress stuck to the open wounds; each movement brought a stinging pain.
I closed my eyes to block out the vision of Joseph John being forced into Tom Pruitt’s truck, the men pinning his arms behind him. And then my own father, Eldon Ray, in the back stall of the barn, wielding his belt, swinging it overhead and bringing it down upon my back.… My mother holding my wrists in a strong grip, looking at me with eyes shining bright and metallic. Was she suffering with me … or was she satisfied? Whatever she felt, she did nothing to stop my pain, even when I cried out to her.
Somewhere in the midnight silence, I heard the wild, frenzied cries of the coyotes as they closed in on their prey. The insane yipping and howling echoed off the red rocks and desolate plains of the Utah desert. My heart beat faster and the blood rushed to my head. I knew how the prey felt in that terrible moment: trapped, helpless. I lay on my stomach, pressing my face against the cool dirt floor, letting exhaustion take over. I felt something scurry over my leg but I did not bother to shake it off. Perhaps I will sleep and never wake up; perhaps God will deliver me from the life that lies before me … or restore me to the life I knew just a few months earlier.…
© 2010 Michele Dominguez Greene