Sister Wife by Shelly Hrdlitschka

Polygamist cults are fascinating. There’s just no way around it.  They are creepy and weird and disturbing and it seems a bit distasteful to be curious about them, but I am.  Celeste lives in Unity, a polygamist compound.  Her mother is one of 4 wives and at age 32 is pregnant with her 8th child.  Celeste is her oldest daughter, about to turn 15.  That is the age when she will be assigned a husband.  Her younger sister, Nanette, is 13 and wishes she was about to be assigned.  The two sisters vividly show the two scenarios of belonging to such a cult–Celeste questions her faith and its tenets and has feelings for a boy her own age;  Nanette wishes she could get married now, she can’t wait to have babies and an older husband.  One thing that is clear is that both girls love their families.  That is shown so well that you see clearly how complicated it is for a mother or child who wants to leave the community–it will mean betraying their loved ones and possibly never seeing them again.  So, for Celeste who is 15 and loves her mother, who is a kind and loving mother, the idea of leaving is heartbreaking.  She doesn’t feel quite the same way about her cruel father (he doesn’t want one of his wives to see a doctor despite terrible pregnancy complications.)  Another thing the book highlighted well was the awkward situation this religion creates in terms of its young men.  The older men are the ones assigned wives, the daughters are the ones married off.  Where does that leave the teenage boys and young men? They are left neither welcome in their own communities, nor in regular society.

This was a fascinating story and I really wasn’t sure what the ending would be.  As with any story about a young girl in a polygamist community the central question is “will she or won’t she leave?”  This story very satisfyingly had an epilogue so you could find out what happened to several of the characters, and not just her.

I really couldn’t stop thinking about this story.  It was entertaining until I would start thinking about how it is reality for some people, and I then I was terribly saddened and disgusted and creeped out (child rape!)

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