Title: Sister Wife
Author: Shelley Hrdlitschka
Release Date: October 1, 2008
Genre: Teen, Contemporary Fiction
Review: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Rating: 4 out of 5
From the back cover:
In the isolated rural community of Unity, the people of The Movement live a simple life guided by a set of religious principles and laws that are unique to them. Polygamy is the norm, strict obedience is expected and it is customary for young girls to be assigned to much older husbands.
Celeste was born and raised in Unity, yet she struggles to fit in. Perhaps it’s because of Taviana, the girl who has come to live with them and entertains Celeste with forbidden stories, or Jon, the young man she has clandestine meetings with, or maybe it’s the influence of Craig, the outsider she meets on the beach. Whatever it is, she struggles to accept her ordained life. At fifteen she is repulsed at the thought of being assigned to an older man and becoming a sister wife, and she knows for certain she is not cut out to raise children. She wants something more for herself, yet feels powerless to change her destiny because rebelling would bring shame upon her family.
Celeste watches as Taviana leaves Unity, followed by Jon, and finally Craig, the boy who has taught her to think “outside the box.” Although she is assigned to a caring man, his sixth wife, she is desperately unhappy. How will Celeste find her way out of Unity?
Torn from the headlines and inspired by current events, Sister Wife is a compelling portrait of a community where the laws of the outside world are ignored and where individuality is punished.
Fundamentalist polygamous sects are becoming more and more popular as a topic of literature in today’s society. Shelley Hrdlitschka’s Sister Wife capitalizes on this and tells the story of Celeste, a 15-year-old girl who is considered eligible for marriage in the small community she lives in. Though the novel is directed at young adults, people of any age will find this short and simple novel interesting and eye-opening.
One thing that struck me about Sister Wife was how open the community of Unity was. From what I have previously read about these sects (both fiction and non-fiction), most of the women in the compounds were barely aware of the world around them. However, Celeste has heard much about the outside world from Taviana, a runaway who has been accepted into the Unity community, and has visited the nearby town and seen the “real world” with her own eyes. I’m not sure how accurate that is (and I have a feeling it isn’t very accurate, but I can’t say for certain), but it gives Celeste the chance to see that there is more out there than just Unity.
The character of Nanette was very unlikeable – she was a bit of a tattler. She claimed that, at thirteen, she was ready for marriage, but displayed no maturity throughout the book. She also had somewhat sexual thoughts which was surprising because I have read elsewhere that many women in these communities aren’t even aware of what sex is until their wedding nights. It is also a bit disturbing to read about a thirteen-year-old girl fantasizing about a man the same age as her father.
Sister Wife also introduces an interesting notion: that of family loyalty. Celeste debates escaping Unity but can’t bring herself to because she loves her family. In this case, it’s not that Celeste doesn’t know there is something different out there, or that she believes that she will go to hell if she leaves Unity. It is that she will miss her family and would be devastated if they were disgraced by her apostasy.
Sister Wife is an easy book to read: despite the serious subject matter, it does not weigh the reader down. It provides an interesting look at a very different way of life and the choices a young girl must make. I recommend this book for young adults as well as adults.