Last weekend I attended the Fresh Fiction Boas and Tiaras tea. I enjoy this large and diverse group of readers. The annual tea featured multiple authors, some I knew, some I did not, but all who were fascinating. One of the new authors I met was Claire Avery, now Claire Avery is a pseudonym for sisters Mari Hillburn and Michelle Poche who collaborated to write their debut novel: Hidden Wives.
Hidden Wives by Claire Avery
I want to preface my review with two small warnings, this book is not for the faint of heart, but don’t be turned away by the material. As tragic as moments are in this story and as painful and brutal as it was to read what happens to the characters, the writing is truly first class and you become so involved and care so damn much about Rachel, Sara, Irvin, Esther and Luke, that it really becomes impossible to put the book down.
Hidden Wives follows the story of fifteen-year-old Sara and her beautiful sister, Rachel. The sisters are too young to legally drive a car—but are approaching spinsterhood in Utah’s secret polygamist Blood of the Lamb community. Having long since reached the “age of preparedness,” they will soon be married off to much older men chosen by the hidden sect’s revered Prophet.
As Sara, chosen to become her uncle’s fifth wife, grows more distraught over her impending incestuous marriage, she begins to scrutinize the faith she has followed blindly her entire life. But for Rachel, who will be married to one of the many powerful community leaders vying for her hand, disobeying the Prophet means eternal damnation. Her friendship with the newest member of the community, the young and handsome Luke, starts as an attempt to save his agnostic soul, but ends with the pair falling helplessly in love. When Rachel is forbidden to see him, her absolute faith in the Prophet is severely tested.
When Rachel’s future husband is finally announced, violence erupts, and the girls must find the strength to escape the only life they have ever know…before it’s too late.
I picked up this book because I found the authors fascinating and after reading the blurb on the back of the book at the tea, I was definitely curious. We’re all aware of extreme religious sects and we see the stories in the news. We’re always genuinely horrified when we learn just how bad things were for the women and children in the sect or cult, so don’t be surprised by just how horrible life seems to be for Rachel and Sara. It is so far beyond my own personal experience that I was clenching my fists at times and wishing I could tear into the pages to help them.
This book is not for the faint of heart. The violence can be insidious and intense, although scenes of utter brutality are in direct opposition to wild moments of compassion, concern and caring. We spent a lot of time in the heads of both Sara and Rachel. We see this world through their eyes. We share their pain as they fight against the conditioning and teachings they’ve had drummed into them their whole lives.
While I wish to give nothing away, there are two moments, so spectacularly emotional, that I was driven to tears. I wanted to stand up and shout, “Swing it again” at times and I wanted to just pull them close and give them a hug. When I was done with this book, I was torn between laughter and tears; tears for all the pain and laughter for the triumph.
When I was done, I went into the next room and gave my daughter the fiercest hug, so grateful for so many things. I honestly do not think I would have picked up this book if I hadn’t met these lovely authors, which would have been a true tragedy.
Over the last few days, I’ve had time to absorb the story and share my feelings about reading it with a few friends. Recovered from the emotional journey, I am tremendously glad I read it.
I would recommend this book with only the warning that it will get brutal, it will get hard and you will feel your insides curdle, but hang in there – because you will also experience gratitude, genuine relief and fierce pride in these wonderful sisters.
Meet the Authors
Check out the authors in this video and learn more about them at their website.
Have you had a chance to read Hidden Wives?