"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

18 January 2011

Keep Sweet

Greene, Michele. Keep Sweet. New York: Simon Pulse, 2010.

For some reason, it seems that fringe societies are the popular topic this year.  From memoirs retelling stories of life in a strict religious group or escape from such a group to young adult fiction depicting the same, everyone is interested in these groups.  This book was just one of about half a dozen such books on the "new young adult fiction" shelf at the library.  I chose this book because it discusses the FLDS, a group about which I have read recently.

Alva is a daughter of her father's favorite wife, and things are going pretty well for her.  She watches her mother jockey for her father's attention and is certain, even when her father adds a seventh wife, that her mother will still be the favorite. Alva plans to do this same thing once she is married, although she hopes to be someone's first wife.

All of this changes when outsiders enter the community.  A man and his wife choose to join the FLDS, and Alva finds herself becoming friends with Brenda, the short-haired, pants-wearing wife who works at a bank in town and can't sew or cook to save her life.  Alva begins to realize that perhaps the world outside isn't nearly as evil as everyone suggested, and that there might be some things wrong with the FLDS beliefs.

Alva's decision to flee the community comes after she is caught almost kissing John Joseph, a boy she is hoping to marry.  Her father's swift reaction - having the boy expelled from the community, beating Alva with a belt, locking her in the cellar for the night, and marrying her off to a very violent 50-year old man - convinces Alva that she must leave. 

This book was a very quick read for me. I enjoyed learning about life inside an FLDS community from the perspective of a child, and I was on the edge of my seat as Alva attempted to escape the community.   I was cheering for Alva in her second escape attempt, this time in the trunk of Brenda's car.  I found myself comparing Alva's escape to Jonas's in Lois Lowry's The Giver, and I cheered with Alva when she discovered that John Joseph, now one of the lost boys, had been looking for her. Overall, this story was very well-written and kept me interested.

However, I have to offer one rather large caveat: when Alva attempts to escape the first time, she is caught and returned to the community.  Upon her return, she is forced into a marriage with a 50-year old man, who then takes her to the basement of the building and consummates the marriage.  Alva is not yet 15 at this time, and the rape scene, although brief, is graphic and scary.  There is also a scene earlier in the book where Alva witnesses this same man beating one of his wives who attempted to escape.  That scene is particularly violent and distressing that so many people could watch in silence while a man broke his wife's jaw and ribs and beat her into unconsciousness. 

Because of these two scenes, I do not recommend this book to anyone who is a teenager or has a history of abuse, and I recommend extreme caution for all others.  I understand why the author would choose to include these scenes, and I appreciate their brevity and the way they help to move the plot along, but when I finished this book I had to "clean out my brain" with another book before I could go to bed that night. Greene's depiction of life within the FLDS community seems fairly accurate from the little I know and have read, and she walks a fine line between condemning their unusual beliefs and showcasing the reasoning behind some of their actions.

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