Monday, February 7, 2011

Review: Keep Sweet by Michele Dominguez Greene

Found via: 2011 Amelia Bloomer Project

I'm kind of beginning to feel like when it comes to stories of fundamentalist religious societies, all of the stories have been told. This is the third title about FLDS compounds I've read for young adults that has been published in the last three years, and all of the stories share the exact same structure (the other two titles being Sister Wife and The Chosen One)

Keep SweetAlva Jane has never questioned the tenets of living amongst the FLDS faithful in Pineridge. She comes from a long line of women who keep to the Principle - that a man must engage in plural marriage in order to secure his and his family's places in heaven. She is anxiously waiting for her period to start, signalling that she is a woman and ready to marry - hopefully to the young and kind Joseph John, which would also give her the status and privileges associated with being a first wife.

But when an innocent meeting between the two love birds is witnessed, both are fiercely punished, and Alva finds herself married to a cruel man old enough to be her father - a man who viciously beat one of his wives for attempting to escape Pineridge. Does Alva have the strength to defy the will of her husband, her family, and the very tenets of her faith, to find refuge in the world outside of Pineridge?

Well, if you've ever read any other books about young women in FLDS compounds, you already know the answer to that. You probably also know what Alva discovers immediately before she takes off. In an author's note, Greene notes that when she read accounts of women who've escaped FLDS life, their stories were all hauntingly similar, from British Columbia to New Mexico. That similarity is reflected in how many similarities Keep Sweet has to other YA books with similar settings. Obedient daughter who is enamored with a young man is punished for her curiosity by becoming the lowest wife on the totem pole to a much older man. About the only difference between Keep Sweet and other titles is that Alva Jane's parents show little to no remorse for the harsh treatment they heap upon her - they are more concerned with their own standing within the community than their daughter's happiness. This doesn't add much to the characterization of her father because he is so distant for much of the novel, but it does make her mother an interesting, if villainous, character.

On its own, there are few faults to be found with Keep Sweet, aside from an irritating habit in the first few chapters to go on page-long info-dumps about life in Pineridge and her family. If Keep Sweet were the only FLDS novel I'd ever read, I'd probably think it was pretty decent. However, the book doesn't exist in a vacuum, and ends up feeling quite derivative with nothing to separate it from the pack.
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