The Chosen One
Carol Lynch Williams
ISBN 0-312-55511-3
St. Martin’s Press, 2009
Grade 7 and up
Realistic Fiction

Kyra, fourteen, loves to read and developed a surprising crush on her friend Joshua. Unfortunately, as one of the Chosen, Kyra is betrothed to a man five times her age and could face severe punishment for reading and kissing Joshua if one of the Apostles were to find out.

Summary:

Fourteen-year-old Kyra has a lot of guilt. She has been sneaking kisses with her friend Joshua, she sneaks out to visit the bookmobile, and she has thoughts about killing the Prophet. Kyra’s family lives in a community formed by a polygamous sect, the Chosen. Selected to marry her sixty-year-old uncle, Kyra loses it. She knows she cannot marry him, not only is he fifty years older than she, he is also abusive and domineering to women. She refuses the marriage and puts her entire family in danger. In a community that expects cooperation without question, Kyra’s aggressiveness on this matter is unwelcome. Kyra knows she must escape; she solicits the help of the bookmobile driver who she has befriended over her weekly visits. When she reveals all to him he is eager to help. In a fast-paced chase scene, the driver speeds her away from the compound toward the city, followed by members of the Chosen. The Chosen manage to kill the bookmobile driver, but Kyra dials 911 on his cell phone. She is rescued by police and brought to a safe house for people leaving the Chosen.

Critique:

The Chosen One wasn’t quite what I anticipated, but I found it an engrossing page turner. A few elements were hard to believe: if everyone is being watched so closely, how is Kyra able to sneak around so easily? Otherwise, this is an excellent selection for a book group or even classroom selection.

Curriculum Ties:

The Chosen One could be used in classroom units on religion (including cults), including both current events and historical events.

Controversy:

Child rape, physical abuse.

Encourage challengers to read the entire book to understand the context of these elements and their importance to the story. Point out that this happens in real life and refer challengers to news stories.

Selection Rationale:

I heard about this new book on one of the YALSA listservs and thought it sounded interesting. The story brings up many issues that will make it wonderful for discussion.

“Within a fast-moving story, Williams creates sympathetic characters, and readers will hold their breath right to the end, hoping that Kyra wins her freedom.” – The Horn Book Magazine

“…Kyra’s terrible dilemma–escaping her fate means betraying her family–is heartbreakingly real, and the final scenes are riveting and suspenseful.” – Kirkus

Booktalking:

Describe life on Kyra’s compound.

About the Author:

Carol Lynch Williams, an avid reader and writer is the author of many books for children and young adults. Upcoming titles are Lost in Peace and A Glimpse is All I Can Stand.

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Broken China
Lori Aurelia Williams
ISBN 0-689-86878-2
Simon & Schuster, 2005
Grades 8 and up
Urban Fiction

China thought being a mother at fourteen was tough, now she’s about to face something even harder.

Summary:

China Cup Cameron is fourteen and a mother to two-year-old Amina. She has trouble keeping up in class, with keeping up with life. After experimenting one time with her best friend, Trip, China is pregnant. She isn’t a regular kid any more, but she loves her daughter. With the help of her wheelchair bound uncle, Simon, China provides a safe and loving home for little Amina. Unfortunately, tragedy befalls the family when Amina suddenly dies at the babysitters’ due to a heart condition. Both China and Simon are heartbroken by Amina’s death. China is ruined by grief; she drops out of school and falls deeper and deeper into depression. Wanting to provide the best for her daughter even in death, China pulls out all of the stops for Amina’s funeral (egged on by a sketchy funeral director). Of course, the funeral puts China into massive debt, so she has to find a job. The job market is tough for a fourteen year old high school dropout, but eventually China gains employment at a kind of coat check girl at a strip club named Obsidian Queens. Life gets even rougher as China’s relationships with her family and friends change as a result of her employment. She makes new connections, befriending women in trouble and discovering the manipulations she has become the victim of. China is damaged by the death of her daughter and her experiences at Obsidian Queens, but her story ends on a hopeful note.

Critique:

Watching China sink into the hole of both her and society’s making is difficult. At the beginning of the book China is truly trying to make the best of a tough situation, and is finding wonderful support (it takes many different forms) in her friends and family. Her depression and ways of dealing with the tragedy are evoke real emotion, but the plot is burdened by too many setbacks and hardships. Williams developed an interesting cast of characters, who I found myself rooting for.

Curriculum Ties:

None.

Controversy:

Portrayal of teen sex, prostitution, and drug use.

China reflects at the beginning of Broken China: “Before I had Amina I had seen pregnant girls on TV that were only a little older than I was when I got a big belly” (p. 4). Teen pregnancy is a reality and this story does little to romanticize or glorify the life of a teen parent or even teen sex. China was obviously not ready to have sex, experiencing no pleasure or sense of emotional bonding with her partner, Trip. Sex was weird and awkward for China, and she didn’t keep doing it. Likewise, prostitution and drug use are frowned upon through the tone of the book. Broken China is loud and clear regarding these issues.

Selection Rationale:

China’s age at the beginning of this novel will help it appeal to younger readers, will more mature content will still make it relevant to older teens. This would be an excellent selection for a mixed ages book group. I found myself emotionally involved with the characters in this book.

American Library Association’s Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2006

“…the emotional life of the story rings true. Readers will be drawn in by the portraits of strong individuals working hard to re-shape their lives.” – The Horn Book Magazine, March/April, 2005
“Williams is a master of character development and genuinely realized emotional growth. Her plotting almost boils
over with big problems, but China is so compelling and engaging in her responses to situations that readers will care more about cheering her along than about the author’s operatic predilections.” – School Library Journal, March 2005

Booktalking:

Why is China broken?

According to China why was it so important to have a beautiful funeral?

About the Author:

Lori Aurelia Williams, an avid reader as a child, holds a Master’s in English from the University of Texas. She is the author of two other young adult books: When Kambia Elaine Flew In from Neptune (2000) and Shayla’s Double Brown Baby Blues (2003). She received a James A. Michener scholarship while in school.