Plot: Narrated from the perspective of three teenage girls, 13, 15, and 17, all in search of direction, love, and faith, this family drama encapsulates a traditional coming of age story. Set in a fictional Mormon intentional community, the life of polygamists is introduced in three different angles. Celeste, 15, dreams of happiness with a boy her own age, but is set to marry his father instead, Taviana, 17, seeks community and acceptance yet battles her old life of living on the streets, while Nanette, 13, is dedicated to the purity of her faith and can’t wait to marry a man and have a baby of her own. Under one roof, and in one small community, three girls find their paths to true happiness. Suitable for ages 14 and up.
After watching the final episode of Big Love on HBO, I have been interested in intentional communities, and even more so, interested in marriage! It seems the only spaces where non-heteronormative relationships exist within the realm of marriage are on HBO, either during Real Sex, or when three women share the bed with one man, unlawfully, but spiritually granted. Once the season ended, well, with that and the L-Word finale, I didn’t know what to do next. Luckily, I was just in time to soak up the essence of the newly released 2009, 2nd updated and expanded edition of The Ethical Slut: A Roadmap for Relationship Pioneers. Finally, I could indulge in the possibility of alternate sexual and partnering realities…But I digress, we’ll review that book at a later date. Right now, it’s more about entering the world of pluralities, from the stance of love and marriage.
Although I’ll admit wanting the women in a polygamous relationship to fall in love with each other, leaving the man to his bread-winning duties and out of the bedroom for good, I realized I ought to disengage my fantasies of lesbian-separatist existence and replace my notions of completion with acknowledging the multiple dimensions that actually exist within plural marriages. That’s why I picked up Sister Wife. I figured Shelley Hrdlitschka could answer some of my questions, or simmer down the boiling pot of fantasy I’ve been brewing.
Unable to put the book down, I read it in a single sitting. Written with superb clarity, Hrdlitschka really delved deeply into the obsessively passionate minds of young girls. That’s where our sexuality begins, right? During those late night moments between the sheets and our cotton pajamas, warmth burdens our insides, leading us to ask new questions. For Celeste, she needs to know how a boy with skin as soft as hers may feel against her lips, and if God will permit her to find out, while her sister, Nanette, needs the rustled beard of a 40-year-old man. Nanette at 13-years-old wants to be the newest, youngest, wife to a man she prays for, with large hands.
Hrdlitschka doesn’t actually mention “Mormonism” as the designated religion. She also doesn’t locate this hidden society to Utah or any other part of Middle America. She does however, find clarity of nature via Native American boys who build rock formations on the opposite side of the forest, and mother-daughter relationships that defy ranking systems and natural orders. Sister Wife is a wonderfully honest and brave account of the diversity of American life. Furthering the coloring of a marginalized voice, Hrdlitschka paints a new portrait of America, of women, of sisters, and of wives.
Together, with the narration of three girls’ voices, adopted as my own, I prayed, feared, and hoped for a world outside. Suddenly, plural marriages and the lure of separatist intentional communities lost its sexy. Instead, the definition of sisterhood resounded. Ultimately, we are left to question, what makes marriage so holy anyway. Regardless of your values, it’s hard to not question the issue of age and relationships in these holy marriages.
If we cannot fully endorse a competent 13-year-old with a raging libido and melodramatic intentions to marry a 40-year-old man, then can we truly advocate for our own same-sex marriages with the resolute conviction?