Sara lives in the Blood of the Lamb polygamous sect in rural Utah. Though she’s only fifteen, she’s past the age where most girls in the community have been married. The only thing that’s keeping her unmarried is the fact that her older sister, Rachel, is also unmarried. Rachel is exceptionally beautiful, and as a result, many men have received testimony from God in order to marry her. When the Prophet reveals who Sara will marry, it horrifies her. She begins to question her upbringing and the community she was raised in, hoping that one day she’ll be able to escape.
I’ve read a few books about polygamous communities, and all have been pretty horrifying. From David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife to Carol Lynch Williams’ The Chosen One, these books portray a society so foreign and repulsive, it’s hard to believe that the stories within these novels are actually taking place somewhere in the United States. Hidden Wives has a “ripped from the headlines” feel to it; it’s dramatic and eye-opening.
The two main characters in Hidden Wives are Sara and Rachel, though there are other narrators interspersed throughout the story. Sara begins to question her faith and the community’s practices very early in the novel. Having attended public school outside the community and embraced it, she realizes that they are very different from everyone else. Rachel, on the other hand, is much more of a sheep. She truly believes in the Prophet and their religion, as well as the sanctity of plural (or celestial) marriage. It takes a lot to shake her faith, and even once that happens, she is still worried about apostasy and going to hell.
Avery (the author Claire Avery is actually the pseudonym of two sisters, but for the purposes of this review, I’ll refer to them as “Avery”) develops these characters well, really endearing them to the reader. Having two main characters is also very effective – Sara is the protagonist, trying to bring change. Rachel is the other side of the spectrum, a perfect example of how indoctrinated these girls are. Looking at her, it’s easier to understand why more women don’t try to escape these horrible conditions.
Hidden Wives is a tense, suspenseful read. Sometimes I felt like the events portrayed were unrealistic (for example, how quickly Sara accepted an African American boy, when she’d been taught from birth they were basically the spawn of Satan), but in general it’s a gripping read. The abuse that these women have to endure is simply heartbreaking. It’s not a book for the faint of heart, but it’s certainly a detailed and well-researched look at a polygamous community.