Friday, July 30, 2010

Review: Hidden Wives by Claire Avery

Hidden Wives by Claire Avery is the story of half-sisters Sara and Rachel, who are members of the Blood of the Lamb polygamous community. At 15, both are of an age to be married: Sara has been promised to her uncle (as his fifth wife), while the prophet is still praying about the fate of beautiful Rachel.

One of the joys of reading is immersing yourself in a book to the point where you forget you’re reading. Hidden Wives started off promisingly, hooking me with the following sentences:
“For as long as Sara could remember, she jolted awake every morning, startled to be alive. Whenever her father looked at her, she imagined him calculating the width of her neck and the degree of pressure he would have to exert in order to snap it.” (p. 11)
Unfortunately, almost immediately, Avery’s writing style tripped me up, so I felt I couldn’t get past the words into Sara and Rachel’s world. Over and over, the odd imagery took me out of the story (“It was a big, toothy grin that split his cheeks in two like a cracked egg” [pp. 11-12]; “Her arms would drip over the ends of her chair like wet diapers . . .” [p. 114]; “His teeth were a gallery of grays and yellows . . . splayed outward like badly hung paintings” [pp. 130-131]). I read the first third of the book with a notebook nearby, jotting down all the strange turns of phrases and incorrectly used words. The middle of the book picked up, and I found myself more drawn into the story, wanting to know what would happen to the sisters; however, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that the book’s message—that polygamy hurts women and children, and that something should be done about it—trumped the storytelling. The clearest example of this is the subplot involving Sara’s best friend, Ruth, who appears at one point in the novel so Sara (and the reader) can learn something about the dangers of close-kin marriages; once the point has been made, Ruth promptly disappears as a character in the book. I also unfortunately anticipated many of the plot twists (several were foreshadowed only moments before they happened), and the ending struck me as wishful thinking rather than a likely outcome to this story.

There is no question that it’s shocking that the type of human rights abuses detailed in this book are tolerated in the name of religious freedom in North America today. However, if you want to learn more about polygamy, I would recommend that you read Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer, The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (read my review) or The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams instead.

I am very much in the minority in not liking this book; every single one of the reviews mentioned below is positive!

Thank you to Forge Books for sending me this book to review.

Hidden Wives was on blog tour with TLC Book Tours in July. Visit these other blogs for reviews:

RundpinneLuxury ReadingNovel WhoreSimply StacieTrisha’s Book BlogThoughts from an Evil OverlordBibliofreakBook Club ClassicsCrazy for BooksS. Krishna’s BooksIt’s All about BooksAll about {n}Life in the ThumbScraps of LifeStiletto StorytimeJoyfully Retired

Other reviews:

Amy’s Book Obsession Life Is Short. Read Fast. Lu’s Raves and RantsQueen of Happy EndingsReading on a Rainy Day

Interview with the authors, Michelle Poche and Mari Hilburn (who write under the pen name Claire Avery): Life Is Short. Read Fast.


  1. Wow those passages are pretty awkward... I don't think I would be able to get passed them either.

    Thanks for an honest review :)

  2. I haven't read this book, but I did read The 19th Wife and thought it was fantastic.

  3. It's always disappointing when a book has an interesting plot, but the writing gets in the way.

  4. I've already read The 19th Wife and have Under the Banner of Heaven on my shelf at home, ready to read. Sounds like I can skip this one.

  5. Wow, sounds like an overuse of similes and metaphors. I do enjoy polygamy books, but you've made me wonder if this is the book for me.

  6. Thanks for sharing this review. I have this book in my to-read pile and when i checked the reviews i also saw mostly positive ones. Its good to have a balance though so thanks for posting this. Maybe we can exchange notes when i am finished reading my copy : )

  7. I really did enjoy this one. I thought that is was very close to The Chosen One in story and telling. I honestly didn't have a problem with any of the writing because I was totally engrossed in the story so I guess some of those things didn't pop out at me! I thought you wrote a thoughtful review and appreciate your take on this one!!

  8. I tend to shy away from books about polygamy and after your review I doubt I'd look to this one for a first time read on the topic.

    I think the introduction and then disappearance of a character as a tool would bother me more than the weird imagery. Still, the one about the cracked egg is quite funny (not to mention a bit creepy)! And you're so right about the wet diaper arms...

  9. i recently read a book that was rife with overblown figurative language and it made for an awkward read. sorry this one didn't work for you. i actually have 'the 19th wife' in my car (audio book) right now and can't wait to get to it!)

  10. Those are some very awkward phrases. And there seems to be so many books on polygamy out there ... I have yet to read one.

  11. I recently read this book. I enjoyed the use of similes and metaphors.
    I have to say that I thought Rachel's friend Ruth disappeared as a character because of the fact that Ruth's family forced her to leave, and told her to stay way from her, so I totally expected her not to reappear in the story.

    My thoughts are posted here

    I have added the other books that you suggested to my to read list!