Sister Wife takes place in Unity, home to The Movement, a conservative religious group that lives apart from mainstream, modern society. It follows three very different girls coming of age in Unity, with the title referring to the fact that the community practices polygamy (referred to as “celestial marriage”), where young girls are married off to older men, whose other wives are their “sister wives.”
Celeste has grown up in Unity, but she is beginning to question the ways of The Movement as the day nears when she will be assigned to a husband. She is fifteen and doesn’t feel ready to be married, especially not to a man old enough to be her father. However, she also doesn’t feel ready to fight the traditions of her community, not when it will bring shame to the family she loves so dearly.
Nanette, Celeste’s younger sister, is far more content with their way of life. She can’t wait until the Prophet assigns her to a husband. She can’t wait to be a sister wife, and a mother. She believes completely, with her whole heart, and can’t understand Celeste’s reluctance and doubts.
Taviana is not from Unity, and her life before coming to the community was very, very different from the modest, religious way of things in the Movement. She feels safe in Unity, but she’s not dedicated to the lifestyle.
Sister Wife is very much ripped from the headlines, and I don’t love that. Inspiration from the real world and the news, as Laura Wiess cites, is all well and good, but I feel like Shelley Hrdlitschka carried it too far for my taste. It also didn’t have much besides being ripped from the headlines. It was very much an issue book, and I am not a fan of the issue book. A skilled author can deal with an issue very well without actually writing an issue book. Shelley Hrdlitschka is not that author. A book can be about real people and life and what goes on and that can have issues in it, and that is a much better type of book. A book never has to be an issue book, but this was an issue book.
I liked, though, that it was relatively unbiased; it wasn’t a tirade against polygamy or an indoctrination. However, that balance felt a little forced with the alternating viewpoints. Three sides of the story were well represented, but the way it was written and structured felt almost unnecessary. I didn’t feel like we needed equal representation and first person narration from all three girls. Their voices were indistinct, and I often had to flip pages to see which girl’s point of view I was reading. Books don’t need to be democratic. I actually think a third person narration would have sufficed. I didn’t care enough about the individual characters to want all of them to tell the story.
I think that’s it, really; I was interested enough in this book, but I never really cared about any of it. I never once felt personally invested. Part of what a good book does is make the reader care, and Sister Wife never did that for me.
It didn’t feel real, despite its foundation in real life and current events. It didn’t feel like something that was actually happening. It felt like a book, and great books don’t, if that makes any sense. Great books captivate the reader and sweep them away into the story. This book does not do that. It is not well-written enough to do that. It is sometimes boring, sometimes awkward, and only sometimes very readable. I did finish this book, and I enjoyed it well enough while reading, but it’s not something that I’d recommend very highly unless you have a particular interest in the issue at hand.