Children's Literature - Carlee Hallman
This story of life in a polygamous cult is told from the points of view of three teenage girls. At the age of 15, girls are assigned to be wives of older men. Each man is expected to have at least three wives who consider themselves sisters. The wives are expected to have as many children as possible. Taviana was invited by a kindly member to enter the community from a life on the street. She was content until she was kicked out because the law was looking for her, and the Prophet feared adverse publicity. Celeste, who becomes 15, is influenced by Taviana and has a crush on a neighboring boy from the cult. Nanette, Celeste's younger sister, is looking forward to being assigned a husband, but one she already likes. The conflicts between absolute obedience to the Prophet versus thinking for oneself, accepting medical science or allowing women to die in childbirth, and arranged versus love marriages drive the story. Descriptions of personal resolution through concentration while building balanced stone sculptures and inuksuks, stone markers from the Inuit tradition, are interesting. The treatment of young women like chattel by older men is sickeningly vivid. Although the tragedies and conflicts keep the interest up, this is not a book for everyone. Reviewer: Carlee Hallman
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
This novel is a version of a dystopian story in science fiction, except that the society it tells of could be one that exists today. (The story of the Texas community recently in the news because of polygamy and marriage between older men and young teenage girls comes to mind.) Avoiding the inflammatory elements in such a story, Hrdlitschka uses three narrators, three young women, who have their experience with the community called Unity to relate. One of the teenage girls, Taviana, was adopted into the community just 18 months previously, escaping a life on the streets where she supported herself through prostitution. For her, Unity means family life and love and securitybut she is never quite accepted because of her past. Celeste, at 15, is a beloved daughter. She has been dutiful all her life. But now her father is talking about her marriage, and the thought of an arranged marriage with an older man has become difficult for her to accept, especially since she is flirting with a young man her age and is eager to discover what she would like for her own life. Her own mother, only 32 years old, is very ill with a difficult pregnancy with her 8th child; the community doesn't want to seek the help of doctors, and Celeste doesn't want such a life for herself. Celeste's younger sister Nanette is the third narrator. She is eager to marry an older man, even though she is just 13 years old herself. When Celeste becomes rebellious, Nanette is happy to tattle on her, even though the consequences nearly destroy Nanette's happiness as well as Celeste's. I appreciate the author's portrayal of this alternative religious life. She carefully considers the positive as well as negative aspects ofsuch a rigid community structure, and there are no villains, really. She also avoids sentimental endings in the three narrators' lives, and the reader couldn't predict the outcomes. One would have thought Celeste would leave to join her teenage love instead of going through with the marriage. That doesn't happen, and yet, the ending for Celeste's story is filled with nuance and hope. The use of the stone inuksuk, part of the Inuit culture, is a powerful theme in Sister Wife, and is described as a… "marker that signifies safety, hope and friendship. It speaks to a spirit, to what's inside us, yet its meaning is whatever the builder gives it." You'll have to read the story for yourself to see how the inuksuk changes the characters' lives. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
A fictional story set on a polygamist compound and told through the eyes of three adolescent girls, Sister Wife is an instantly engaging novel that offers insight into the pressures and struggles young girls in polygamist communities face. The fictional town of Unity is a highly structured community where young girls are expected to care for siblings, be married to a man as old as their fathers, and live in a household with multiple wives and their children. The last thing they are supposed to want is to leave. Celeste, her sister Nanette, who is strictly and steadfastly committed to following the ways of her faith, and Taviana, a young girl welcomed and then ostracized from Unity, alternate as the narrator. After Celeste begins to discover a desire for independence through a series of clandestine meetings with a local artist, experiencing romantic feelings for a boy of her own age, is faced with the choice of staying to honor her family and their traditions or leaving to forge her own way in the world. Reviewer: Ta ra Griner
VOYA - Molly Krichten
Celeste is a fourteen-year-old girl growing up in Unity, a religious community. The people of The Movement are guided by a leader called The Prophet, and a mainstay of their society is plural marriage. Celeste knows that when she turns fifteen, she will be assigned to an older member of the community, and she will have to assimilate into his already-established family and perform the duties of a sister wife. With some influence from an outsider turned Movement member, Taviana; Celeste's conservative and faithful sister, Nanette; a questioning and attractive male Movement member, Jon; as well as outsider Craig, Celeste deals with making difficult decisions whose long-term implications will affect her life-whether she stays or leaves Unity. Hrdlitschka effectively shares the details of life on a religious commune and does not shy away from touchy subjects. The characters could easily have become one-dimensional, but Hrdlitschka effectively draws each as a compelling individual. The story takes some amazing turns in the last quarter of the book. Readers who enjoyed Cecilia Galante's The Patron Saint of Butterflies (Bloomsbury, 2008/VOYA June 2008) will likely enjoy this novel. The cover, which is similar to those on Jodi Picoult's work, will add to its appeal. Overall this compelling story combines with authentic characters to pique the interest of a wide array of teens and get them talking about faith and free will. Reviewer: Molly Krichten
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up
Celeste was born into Unity, an isolated polygamist sect. Faith, purity, and obedience are the strictures that her family and community live by. Now 15, the age at which she must marry, Celeste experiences thoughts and feelings at odds with her apparently safe and well-ordered world. She is attracted to a boy her own age, but she knows that the Prophet assigns girls to older men. Her mother's life as a fifth wife is sad and limited, and the woman almost dies during a difficult pregnancy with her eighth child. The story of Celeste's intellectual and emotional awakening is told through the eyes of three teens: Celeste herself; her younger and more faithful sister Nanette; and Taviana, a secular street girl who is taken in by the cult and then kicked out. Many have left cult life, but for Celeste the struggle to discover her true self is huge and the outcome is less certain. How can she choose between her beloved family and the outside world with all its dangers, temptations, and opportunities? The characters, from the multilayered Celeste to the elders of the cult and the confused boys whom Celeste encounters, are all believable individuals engaged in their own struggles. The attractions and rewards of life within a well-ordered hierarchical system are portrayed, as are the inevitable abuses of power and the destruction of the human spirit when choice is not an option. Celeste's struggle is long and hard, and her ultimate choices are realistic as well as satisfying. This novel gives depth and nuance to an experience that is portrayed without subtlety in the popular press.-Carolyn Lehman, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA
A Patchwork of Books Blog
Very well-written and filled with realistic and honest characters, Sister Wife is not to be missed...definitely in my top 5 books read this year.
Tri State Young Adult Book Review Committee
"Hrdlitschka delivers a compelling teen novel, ripped from the headlines, yet thoughtful and peopled with strong characters."
"Hrdlitschka weaves this tale with her usual skill - with warmth and humour, and allows humanity to bloom in the most unexpected corners of the world she has built. It's an amazing read from an author who continues to surprise and entertain with every book she writes."
CBC Radio One - All Points West
"[Shelley Hrdlitschka] has done a fabulous job of creating this other world for us...Compelling storytelling about characters you really come to care about."
"Hrdlitschka handles the sensitive areas of sex and abuse skillfully, keeping the emphasis on a young woman's attempts at understanding herself and coping with difficulties rather than the actual acts. Highly recommended."
"Although Hrdlitschka is careful not to condemn, her details are damning...Such specifics make this an infuriating book about faith - which is entirely appropriate."
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"Readers drawn by a topic that's been newsworthy of late may come away with a broader understanding of the human possibilities within such communities."
"[Hrdlitschka] challenges readers to examine their own ideas and beliefs about relationships, family and religion...Teen readers will thoroughly enjoy reading this novel!"
"Having three different points of view was an excellent idea... Sister Wife is an interesting look at a polygamous community and how it affects the children within those religious sects."
Fresno County Public Library
"A fascinating portrayal of life in a polygamist community. I couldn't put it down."
Tucson Unified School District
"An out of the ordinary interpretation of cult life in a polygamist community. Recommended."
Library Media Connection
"This book will lead to much discussion about the power of faith and how less conventional faiths are viewed in the larger community. Recommended."
The Bookmark (BCTLA)
"Beautifully written. The characters of Celest, Taviana and Nanette are sensitively handled...A compelling read."
Canadian Children's Book News
Southwestern Ohio Young Adult Materials Review Group
A Patchwork of Books Blog - Amanda Snow
"Very well-written and filled with realistic and honest characters, Sister Wife is not to be missed...definitely in my top 5 books read this year."
Barrington Area Library, IL - Abby Johnson
"I really enjoyed this book and the more I though about it, the more I liked it...This is one that will appeal to teens and adults alike."
Maw Books Blog Natasha Maw
"Sister Wife is a great look at what keeps us loyal to our families, our faith, and our traditions and leads me to ask myself which character would I be if I was raised in such a community. Recommended."
Becky's Book Reviews blog Becky Laney
"An excellent book, a fascinating book...packed with ethical implications."