21 February 2011
Rich, Naomi. Alis. New York: Viking, 2010.
Alis lives in a very strict, very secluded religious community. When her parents inform her that she has been pledged to marry the 50-year old leader of the community, Alis decides she must flee. She escapes to the city where she finds her brother and manages to survive for months by joining his gang of thieves. When disaster strikes, Alis decides to return to the community and find Luke, the boy she would have chosen to marry had the choice been hers. Upon her discovery that Luke has died, Alis is convinced that she is being punished for her disobedience, returns to her parents, and begins her preparations for marriage.
I've said this before: strict religious sects are in vogue right now. I cannot tell you how many books about the FLDS church, the Amish, or other strict religious societies grace the shelves of the library I frequent. I've yet to determine exactly why these stories are so popular.
Nonetheless, this story did capture my interest. The descriptions of this religious community are intentionally generic, so we never discover exactly what strict sect Alis is disappearing from. I appreciated the careful line the author walked between describing the community Alis was living in and condemning it. As in all other religious communities, Alis's home was populated by both "good guys" and "bad guys."
I cheered for Alis when she managed to escape to the city. I was glad when she took up thievery as her occupation, rather than the multitude of other options available for a young girl who is in desperate need of money. I was sad when she chose to return to her house, knowing she would soon be married to someone three times her age. And the ending of the story was satisfying, if predictable. As far as books of this genre are concerned, I did not mind this one at all.