Review of Keep Sweet by Michele Dominguez Greene

51do2jptbxl-_sx330_bo1204203200_Rating: 4.5/5

Release Date: March 9, 2010

Length: 224 pages

Source: Borrowed from the library

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Alva Jane has never questioned her parents, never questioned her faith, never questioned her future. She is content with the strict rules that define her life in Pineridge, the walled community where she lives with her father, his seven wives, and her twenty-eight siblings. This is the only world Alva has ever known, and she has never thought to challenge it.

But everything changes when Alva is caught giving her long-time crush an innocent first kiss. Beaten, scorned, and now facing a forced marriage to a violent, fifty-year old man, Alva suddenly realizes how much she has to lose–and how impossible it will be to escape.

This is one of the most emotional and heartbreaking books I’ve read in a very long time. To say it deals with tough issues is an understatement. There were scenes where I was physically cringing at what was happening. If you cry easily when reading books, this will probably make you cry. Trigger warning: this book depicts scenes of Alva Jane, a fourteen year old, being abused and raped and contains another abuse scene of an adult.

Part of what makes this book so heartbreaking is knowing that it’s based on true stories. Alva Jane and her family are part of the FLDS, the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, which is a real group (religion/cult). While this story is fictional, there are a lot of nonfictional elements thrown in. Things that happen to the characters in the story are things that have happened to FLDS members in real life (I suspected this from the beginning and there’s an author’s note at the end that confirms it). To read about and imagine these things happening was truly heartbreaking.

This book is really unique. Not only was this book the only one I’ve ever read based on the FLDS, but it also has a unique protagonist. Alva Jane starts off as a very obedient and conforming FLDS member. She doesn’t question what the prophet or her parents tell her to do. She accepts everything that happens without much thought. This was a really unique and interesting point of view to have, as most of the books I’ve read where the protagonist lives in an oppressive society, they have always had doubts about it or “rebelled” in small ways (i.e. didn’t fully conform or follow the rules). She doesn’t stay this way throughout the novel and that development was very interesting to watch unfold.

I honestly was incredibly surprised by how much I connected emotionally with Alva Jane. It’s been a long time since I connected this much with a character. It wasn’t as if I could relate very much to what she was going through either which is often the reason why I do connect to a character. I just felt so bad for her when things started to go downhill and I wanted to be able to help her. I wanted her to get a happy ending.

The other characters are interesting as well. Alva Jane’s idea of which characters are “good” and which are “bad” change throughout the book which I liked because it shows different sides of the same character. There aren’t many clear-cut “good” characters here. There are several characters who are downright violent and others who seem to be good but are so wrapped up in the FLDS that they do terrible things to people they love and care about (or at least should love and care about).

The only complaint I had about this book was that I felt as though the synopsis gives away too much. I didn’t like that you go into the book knowing that she gets caught kissing Joseph John, the boy she loves and wants to marry, and that she is facing marriage to an old and violent man. This doesn’t happen until about halfway through the book and I found it hard to enjoy the “happier” moments in the beginning because I knew it wasn’t going to last.

Overall a great but emotional and heartbreaking read. If this sounds at all interesting to you, I would really recommend that you read it!

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