Tuesday, April 2, 2024

The Celestial Wife by Leslie Howard

A young fundamentalist Mormon girl facing a forced marriage escapes her strict, polygamist community and comes of age in the tumultuous 1960s in this captivating novel inspired by shockingly true events.

Keep sweet no matter what, 
for this is the way to be lifted up
Keep sweet with every breath, 
for it is a matter of life or death

1964. Fifteen-year-old Daisy Shoemaker dreams of life beyond her small, isolated fundamentalist Mormon community of Redemption on the Canada—US border—despite Bishop Thorsen’s warning that the outside world is full of sin. According to the Principle, the only way to enter the celestial kingdom is through plural marriage. While the boys are taught to work in the lucrative sawmill that supports their enclave, Daisy and her best friend, Brighten, are instructed to keep sweet and wait for Placement—the day the bishop will choose a husband for them. But Daisy wants to be more than a sister-wife and a mother. So when she is placed with a man forty years her senior, she makes the daring decision to flee Redemption.

Years later, Daisy has a job and a group of trustworthy friends. Emboldened by the ideas of the feminist and counterculture movements, she is freer than she has ever been…until Brighten reaches out with a cry for help and Daisy’s past comes hurtling back. But to save the women she left behind, Daisy must risk her newfound independence and return to Redemption, where hellfire surely awaits.

For readers of Emma Cline’s The Girls and Ami McKay’s The Virgin Cure comes an arresting coming-of-age novel about a fearless young girl’s fight for freedom at a time of great historic change.

Paperback, 368 pages
Expected publication  April 9, 2024
by Simon & Schuster
4/5 stars

This is my second time reading a Leslie Howard novel. She is from British Columbia and her stories take place there with a historical setting - at least the 2 that I have read.

Taking place in the 1960s The Celestial Wife is the story of a community of fundamental latter-day saints that is loosely based on a real place. Daisy is 15-years-old and has grown up in the small isolated community near the Canadian/US border. She longs for more out of life, however, the strict rules make that seem an impossibility. What follows is her fleeing the community and beginning life a new, but she is always looking over her shoulder for fear of being captured and sent back.

This was a very interesting read. I was captivated with the story and yes, when I finished I did a fair amount of googling, which just made the story all the more heartbreaking.  It's a slow burn but well worth the read.  Entertaining and so very enlightening to a part of Canada's history but still being practiced.  The book finishes with author notes and places to learn more about this sect.

My thanks to Simon & Schuster CA for a print ARC in exchange for honest review.

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