Born into a polygamous community in the foothills of New Mexico, Gentry Forrester feels lucky to live among God’s chosen. Here, she lives apart from the outside world and its “evils.”
On her thirteenth birthday, Gentry receives a new violin from her father and, more than anything, she wants to play at the Santa Fe Music Festival with her brother, Tanner. But then the Prophet calls from prison and announces he has outlawed music in their community and now forbids women to leave.
Determined to play, Gentry and Tanner sneak out. But once they return, the Prophet exercises control from prison, and it has devastating consequences for Gentry and her family. Soon, everything Gentry has known is turned upside down. She begins to question the Prophet’s teachings and his revelations, especially when his latest orders put Gentry’s family in danger. Can Gentry find a way to protect herself and her family from the Prophet and escape the only life she’s ever known?
This realistic, powerful story of family, bravery, and following your dreams is a can't-miss debut novel from Melanie Sumrow.
I have been lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of THE PROPHET CALLS before its publication, which is set for November 6th of 2018.
The very second sentence of the book, which says, “In the shade of the general store, my three mothers shake their heads in unison,” makes the reader sit up and take notice: this is no run-of-the-mill middle grade novel. Those words hint at the fact that this is an involved and thought-provoking story. What the reader has surmised from that one sentence isn’t wrong; only, the story has much more to it: this is the story of a girl with a big heart and mighty courage. This is the story of a girl who is trying to find her place within her own family and rises above restrictions that not many thirteen-year-olds would ever have to face.
The subject of polygamous communities is complex in its own right; when you have to explore it in a middle grade book, the conversation becomes almost insurmountably complicated. However, the author--in her debut novel, no less!—does a commendable job of it. She is gentle, compassionate and non-judgmental in her portrayal of the society and the many perspectives we come across within the story. She leaves it up to the reader to form their own opinion of each circumstance they face. Additionally, none of the characters in the book is black-and-white. Each of them has strengths along with deep-rooted flaws, and this makes the book more relatable. More life-like.
Sumrow uses deceptively simple language and sentences throughout the book, which only add to the poignancy of the gripping themes explored in the book. Each seemingly simple sentence tugs at your heart and makes it race for what danger is lurking around the next corner, ready to pounce at the protagonist Gentry. And the cover art (both front and back) has been rendered so beautifully that it totally sets the mood for the book.
It’s been a few days since I finished reading the book (in one sitting, btw), but I still catch myself unconsciously wondering how Gentry, Tanner, Amy and Meryl are faring, as though they’re real people. And that is one of the signs of a book done well.
I cannot wait to see how high this book will soar once it hits the stands, because soar it will!
Since I have read memoirs like The Sound of Gravel and The Polygamist's Daughter, I came to The Prophet Calls knowing what to expect: polygamy, dysfunctional families, poverty, and an over-arching controlling community.
The only time Gentry Forrester feels free is when she plays her violin. In her big polygamous family, Gentry's violin is the one thing she can truly call her own until the "prophet" declares music too "worldly." Gentry's family begins to splinter under the crushing weight of so much control. At 13, Gentry has some big decisions to make regarding her future. Can she really choose her own future or will the prophet call all the shots?
The Prophet Calls is an engaging and absorbing debut. However, I take issue with the fact that this is marketed as a middle grade novel. This novel would be horrifying to a young reader without any prior knowledge of the fringe cultish tendencies of the FLDS. The cover art comes across as creepy too unless the reader is aware of how FLDS women and girls dress in a uniform of long prairie dresses with accompanying long braids. Reading should offer a glimpse into unknown worlds and The Prophet Calls offers a more tame peek into a polygamous family. I just wouldn't put this novel into the hands of a younger middle school reader without a good introduction to the FLDS.
Melanie Sumrow’s powerful debut novel, The Prophet Calls, is a coming of age story with a fascinating setting. Raised in an isolated polygamous community in New Mexico, Gentry Forrester adores her family and her music. More than anything, Gentry longs to play her violin at the Sante Fe Music Festival with her big brother Tanner. But the community’s Prophet, who controls every aspect of their lives, calls from prison and forbids all forms of music and decrees that females can no longer leave the compound. When Gentry and Tanner defy these decrees to play at the festival, their family is torn apart, and Gentry must cope with the consequences. I will never forget an opening scene in the novel where the community’s children play one of their favorite games, Apocalypse. As they run up and down a hillside squealing and hiding from imaginary government helicopters, soldiers and grenades, the reader realizes these kids live in a starkly different reality from our own. Throughout the novel Sumrow deftly depicts this alternate world and the believable, complex people who choose to raise their families in such a community. Gentry Forrester is a courageous and thoughtful protagonist, determined to look out for her younger sister. The reader feels for spirited, intelligent Gentry as she struggles to make sense of her community’s oppressive rules. This fundamental aspect of adolescence, developing one’s own moral compass, is made so much wrenching because Gentry’s compass, in the end, drives her to escape her community and the only world she’s ever known. The themes in this novel are certainly topical as people with different world views in our society continue to clash, and women continue to fight for basic freedoms. This well-written and haunting debut is well worth your time.
A girl in a cult finds herself in chaos when everything goes wrong.
This was one of my anticipated reads of September, I love books about cults, I am always interested to see how people fall for them, how people act there, and how a cult works. And to see people try to find a way out (as that is often a plot as well).
However, I am disappointed in this one. Since I am quite tired, and I have tried to write a review for the past 6 days, I will just go for a good/not so good review... though I guess most of this review will be about the not so good stuff.
Let's start with the not so good: -Pacing was just not good. In a very short span we And that is how it went throughout the book. -It didn't feel like Gentry was in the cult for very long. She had a few things going on that said YES I live in a cult and have been living here since my childhood/since a baby, but then there were tons of things that were just weird/off. Like her constantly standing up against everything, her arguing with everyone, her constant butting into things, and other things. That just didn't seem how a girl who has been in the cult for all her life would act. I have read plenty of books about cults, and yes sure, the characters generally learn to stand up for themselves and others, but not this fast. It is gradual, and with it they also lose their faith in the cult. So it was just very weird, and each time she talked about how long she has been in the cult (forever it seems), I was just startled. Whut? Really? How? -How Gentry met C. and they had a convo about how they felt about the cult. Again, weirdly done. Gentry thinks back to the ONE FREAKING concert (well, one song) she and her brother gave a while ago before the mess and how KIND the people were and thus her cult teachings must be off. Which sure they are, but still it seemed weird that she was so instantly convinced and instantly thought something was weird about the cult teachings. Which, also goes with the point above. -But then there are times that Gentry is totally into the cult stuff.. It was just so confusing. Make up your mind. -Her relationship with C. I get that they are friends, but she is constantly dodging any guys not her brothers, but in the mean time she is constantly with C. Sure, I was happy that they were so close, but come on, you two should know... - -The mom. I get that she is superbrainwashed, but at times I thought she would speak up. But she never did. And it was just painful.
Good (Yes, I also have at least 3 good things): -The brother-sister relationship. I loved how Gentry's older brother was always looking out for his sister and his family. Even when poop hits the fan he tries to connect. -Amy. Ah, Amy, I just loved the girl. She doesn't have it easy in the cult as she has Down syndrome, people bully her or make remarks. She isn't allowed to go to school or anywhere. But yet she stays positive (or at least tries as we can see the comments do hurt her), helps out her older sister, sings and dances, and other things. She sure was a radiant light in this book. -The cult was kind of interesting though I wished we had seem more of it. Now it was mostly focused on the mess that happens to Gentry's family and less on the cult itself. We do see some workings and we do find out that the cult leader has been in jail for 11 years. Yep, the guy is in jail but still manages to preach to his cult.
So yeah, disappointed. Hopefully my next book about cults is going to be better. If anyone has any recommendations be sure to let me know!
Thanks to the @kidlitexchange network for the review copy of this book- all opinions are my own.
The Prophet Calls is an excellent debut middle grade novel that provides a glimpse into a world that many readers are unfamiliar with. Gentry is a 13 year old girl who lives in a polygamist community in New Mexico and is now facing the challenge of being considered a woman and no longer a little girl. Melanie Sumrow has written a powerful book about a girl at a crossroads. She carefully documents Gentry's eyes opening and her world getting bigger. The book sensitively portrays the polygamist lifestyle and makes it approachable for middle grade readers. Sumrow writes the book in a way that allows the reader to make their own decisions about Gentry's upbringing and strict community she lives in. Gentry faces many monsters such as the Prophet, powerful men in her community, and even her own family. There are difficult scenes where Gentry is scared and abused. The book also features a scene of animal abuse that is used to show the expectations that are placed on the boys in the community.
Even if readers can't relate to the way Gentry has grown up, they'll be able to relate to her love for her family and playing music. Gentry is equally devoted to protecting and teaching her sister Amy, who has Down Syndrome, as she is to playing her violin. In the face of opposition Gentry always stands up for what is right and she will inspire middle school readers to do the same.
Perfect for readers of Jennifer Mathieu's Devoted and Aisha Saeed's Amal Unbound. This book will interest upper middle school and high school students who like contemporary stories about standing up for yourself.
Another excellent recommendation from @DanAllberry! I'd never heard of this book or Melanie Sumrow, but wow did it deliver. Generally speaking, I don't find myself particularly interested in polygamous communities or cults, but this book explores both in such a compelling, realistic way. Not only that, but it's perfect for middle school, which is sorta hard to believe. These are two topics that normally don't translate to 7th grade very easily, but Sumrow does it masterfully. Two major thumbs up!
I thought the writing and plot were good, the topic grimly fascinating. I loved the relationship between the main character and her sister Amy. The family dynamics were interesting in general. I found the mother very puzzling…but in a good way. The control the leaders had over their flock was chilling.
Some of the details surprised me. This religion is very clearly based off Warren Jeff's version of the FLDS church. I don't know a ton about FLDS culture and practices, but I know a lot about mainstream LDS (Mormon) culture and practices. I was surprised that the people in this book would refer to their "sacred underwear" in those terms. It seems like a phrase which mocking outsiders would use. Same with "God Squad." I would have thought the people in the community would have a much more respectful term for it. I was also surprised that Gentry's father always went to inspect his construction sites on Sundays. Keeping the Sabbath holy seems like a thing that would be central to a very fundamentalist religious group like this. So…I either learned some things…or the author used some creative license…or both. I was also a bit surprised by how much Gentry knew about the outside world, considering how demonized it's been for her entire life, and how little contact she's had with it. For the same reason, I questioned whether she would use some of the pop culture phrases and slang that she did, especially since she does get tripped up by slang a bit at the end.
I would be curious to see what people who have lived in this sort of community think about the book. I'm afraid it might be offensive to some people from very conservative sects, since this books tells a sort of worst-case scenario. It might have been helpful to have an author's note about fundamentalist and/or polygamous cultures that do NOT start engaging in the type of dark practices described here.
I received an ARC in exchange for a review and I'm glad I had a long ride so I could read it right through. I kept reading parts of it out loud to the driver. This book is compelling on many levels - not only because it's based on reality, but because it's beautifully written and moves along swiftly. I was with Gentry, the MC, from the very beginning and was always anxious to see what was on the next page. It should be made clear that no there's no judgement in this book - just the story about Gentry's life in a religious cult (yes, a cult) and her confusion and frustration as she navigates her environment and feels in her gut that something isn't right. The inner conflict is handled very nicely, and it's clear that there isn't an obvious solution to Gentry's plight. She's tough and determined, but also understandably scared and worried about her fate. I believe that middle grade and YA kids, boys and girls, will find this a fascinating story, full of risks and mystery, but also informative about how some kids are forced to live their lives. Share this with kids who want a fast read that will make them look at the world in a very different way. 5 stars for sure.
@kidlitexchange #partner Thanks to #kidlitexchange for sharing a review copy of this #mglit book. . LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book! The Prophet Calls is @melaniesumrow debut novel coming out on 11/6. . The story is about a polygamous community and all of the challenges the members go through. The main character, Gentry, uses her love for music to get her through the darkest of days! Her family is being torn apart, and she needs to make her way out of this community! . Gentry is such a strong female character who goes through very relatable teenage things. Questioning her parents, speaking her mind, standing up for what she believes... except it is in a polygamous world where she myst obey The Prophet. The love and bond she has with her special needs sister is beautiful. . I absolutely recommend this book and look forward to more books by #melaniesumrow . .
Set in a polygamous community in New Mexico, this upper middle grade story is beautifully written and compellingly told. At its center is Gentry, a thirteen year old girl whose love of music (she plays the violin) stirs her feelings and gives her a glimpse of the outside world. As the leader of her community (The Prophet) grows increasingly harsh in his pronouncements, Gentry struggles to obey. What follows is a page-turning, high stakes story that is hard to put down. The southwestern setting and the secondary characters are all well drawn. I was especially moved by the depiction of Gentry's relationship with her younger sister. Readers will be rooting for Gentry from page one. A great addition to any library, classroom or summer reading list!
I have never read anything like The Prophet Calls, but that's not to say I didn't enjoy the story. Think student level Handmaid's Tale. I found myself feeling completely emotional in wanting to help children in circumstances such as Gentry's that are beyond their control. I felt disgusted reading, but I couldn't stop. Everything Melanie wrote is accurate on so many levels, but also written in a way that students will be able to comprehend, question, and then inquire about. Yes, they live in a polygamous community, yes their mother is the third wife to their father, yes they have 21 siblings and are told how to live by a Prophet in prison - but, this has happened, is happening, still today. The story was crafted beautifully and full of power. Your readers will be rooting for Gentry 100%.
An emotionally adventurous tale, this story features life in a religious compound, under the thumb of a Prophet and the stifling expectations of a polygamous community. This is life as "God's chosen people." The problem, however, is that Gentry Forrester is not only a strong-willed 13-year-old girl, but she also (1) loves music and (2) adores her family. As the Prophet exercises his control over the community from the confines of prison, Gentry is faced with a decision: obey his orders, or liberate her family? A sweet tale of love, hope, and devotion, THE PROPHET CALLS is an important contribution to middle grade literature and young female empowerment.
Received this as an ARC because I'm a bookseller. Amazing! Also quite a quick read. Made me want to know more about polygamous communities. Hopefully this book helps others who have an interest in or experience living in these types of communities speak out (for better or worse--but let me tell you--this book is most definitely for worse). It is a timely, important book for the world we live in no matter what community you are a part of--the violence and bigotry towards women is intense in here and maybe even triggering. I wouldn't give to a child younger than 13 honestly--but the age range on here is interesting. Otherwise--I will be recommending this book for sure!
One word: HAUNTING. Gentry's story won't just tug at your heart, it'll stick in your mind and make you think for days. I'm definitely placing this one on my "To Read Again" list, if only to analyze a little more deeply how Sumrow captured such a complex idea -- the notion of a polygamous community -- and yet distilled it for young readers in a way that makes it palatable, relatable, and real. I imagine this one's gonna get studied at great lengths for many years to come.
Gentry lives in Watchful, a community in New Mexico, with her 3 moms, 21 brothers/sisters and 80 cousins while the Prophet is in Texas, in prison. There are other families living in this compound, all of them are one of God’s Chosen according to the Prophet. They have been warned about the individuals living outside their walls. At the age of 13, children are not allowed to play anymore and for Gentry, that also means she couldn’t play her most prized possession, her violin.
Gentry has just turned 13 and she knows that she shouldn’t be playing her most prized possession anymore. Gathering now for services, the congregation waits for the Prophet’s phone call. Asking to stall the crowd, Gentry and her brother are asked to play their instruments. It is a honor to play yet she is shocked since her violin is supposed to be off limits now that she turned 13. As she plays her cherished instrument, her brother thinks about the upcoming festival. The Prophet’s son Dirk makes some harassing remarks to Gentry’s sister, a girl with special needs, who has shown her enjoyment of her siblings’ music. Gentry can’t hold back her tongue as she unleashes her own remarks back to the young man. Talking back to any male and then, talking back to the Prophet’s son are the Prophet’s rules that Gentry has just broken. This is just the beginning of trouble that Gentry finds herself in with her family and the congregation for her behavior and her views.
The love of music finds Gentry and her sibling in trouble as they go again the teaching of the Prophet in this novel. I felt that after a while, anything that Gentry did or touched was wrong in the eyes of the Prophet and ended in disaster for her. It wasn’t like I wanted her to stop what she was doing, as I understood her position, I just cringed as she continued on her journey. She was a strong, determined character, a character who wanted more out of life.
Wow. This was really, really good. I couldn’t put it down and was completely immersed in this world.
Gentry lives in a polygamous community in New Mexico and is supposed to “keep sweet” and avoid anything “evil” from the outside world. The word behind her guarded community of Watchful. This means even giving up doing what she loves, playing the violin. What happens when Gentry starts to question this way of life is when things start to get really interesting...
Riveting window into an entirely different lifestyle. Gentry was born into a polygamous community in New Mexico. I must admit that my weakness would be not knowing how much of the story is realistic, but to me, it seemed very real and well researched. At age 13, Gentry is beginning to see the faults in the beliefs of her community: is the Prophet all knowing? Is he making proclamations to reward his most faithful followers? How can violence be so well received? Why is Gentry's community the 'chosen'? And why would a God create outsiders just to destroy them? This book is suspenseful, thought-provoking, and moves quickly. It made me do my favorite thing while reading: try to rush through while also trying to slow down and savor. I think the grade 7-8 age range is the sweet spot for this book, but could go down to some mature fifth/sixth graders. Highly recommend.
I read this entire book in one sitting. I loved it. This is my favorite book I’ve read in a long time. Excellent middle grade fiction that would crossover to YA easily.
Polygamy, discrimination, one of the most positive wonderful portrayals of a disabled character (even though she has a very rough life) I have ever read. Such a great novel. I hope the author writes more in the future. I couldn’t put it down.
Gentry is a 13 year old with three mothers and lives in New Mexico in a cult. She doesn’t know any other life except what the Prophet demands as “divine revelation”. As she begins to question this life, things become more difficult in day to day life in Watchful.
This was an interesting book and topic. All the reviews of it that I have seen are written by adults. I would be curious to get a youth's perspective on this book. It is marketed to middle grade audiences. I believe that it would be more appropriate for YA audiences.
I had many questions to ask the author while reading this book. They do reference the Book of Mormon as the scripture that the family reads. As an adult I recognize that the book seems to be based on the FLDS Warren Jeffs-type cult and not based on the life of an average member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are sometimes called Mormons. Noted that members of that church have asked that that name not be used. But because many, especially younger people who might not know any members of the Church of Jesus Christ, I would be curious to know how many younger readers see the word Mormon in Book of Mormon and believe it's about members of the Mormon church, which is very different from the FLDS church. The author states that she is a scholar of religions and does not address the differences between the two churches that might be confusing in her text, nor does she address it an afterward or in her acknowledgements. Being a lawyer and a writer, I am sure she understands the importance of using words correctly and also of the words that she doesn't use. I am mildly curious why she didn't address it.
The story was compelling for the most part. There were several holes in the plot and parts that didn't seem to match with the rest of the story. The father works on the Sabbath. Keeping the Sabbath day holy is one of the Ten Commandments and I would think that that would be in important tenet of his faith. I also didn't understand how Tanner found Dr. Lawrence so quickly and how they were able to acclimate so quickly and well to their new life. Contrary to my reading dates, once I finally started the book, it was a very quick read once I started it. Also, when Conrad has his priesthood taken from him, he encourages Gentry to be disobedient in regards to her violin. Why? What is going on in his brain at that time. As I said, it was a quick read and so I suppose there wasn't time to delve that deeply into everyone's psyche.
Fascinating topic: It is a topic that while it is disturbing, we can’t help but be caught up in the train wreck. This novel seems to be somewhat based on the West Texas Polygamist colony. The story is told from the perspective of Gentry, a young girl who is exposed to this life while still holding fast to the dream of playing music on her violin. While the author could have made this story graphic and extremely disturbing, she made it interesting and gives the reader just enough information to understand the horrors of this life. I could see many teenagers reading this, and I think the ensuing discussion around cults and an abusive male dominated world could be enlightening and educational. This is a novel that could easily create an interest in reading. Personally, I would have loved more!
I have to preface this review with the fact that I've already read a lot of nonfiction about fundamentalist Mormons especially the Warren Jeff's cult. There have been many biographies by women who have left the sect. I mention that first because I already had a decent idea of what happened to people in these circles.
Telling the story from the point of view of a thirteen year old girl, Gentry, was significant and extremely well done. Seeing how fundamentalist Mormonism affects children, from their point of view is really important. Marrying girls young, kicking boys and men out of the cult, continuous ""revelation"" from a living ""prophet"", ignoring emotions and feelings and the truth, preaching doom and gloom and violence, all of it is abusive and it is entirely set up to feed the cult leader's ego and libido and his true believers and insiders.
Gentry sees and experiences it but has a little bit of a cushion from reality with her violin and music but even that gets taken away. Fundamentalist Mormonism is entirely based on women as sex objects that exist just for men to use and impregnate. Gentry is told constantly to "keep sweet", "put it on a shelf", that her sole purpose is to get married and have children. She doesn't mind at first, this is all she has ever known. But playing in the festival opens a crack and what happens afterward shows us the reality of living in a cult where one man is seen as "God" or speaking for God.
It's really helpful to see what happens to teenage boys in the sect. The prophet's son gets away with everything and other boys are abused or kicked out. The scene with Kel and the deer is especially illuminating.
Amy, who has Down Syndrome, is loved by Gentry and the rest of the family but the rest of the sect don't think she is fit to live. The outright cruelty by some towards Amy is relevant. Remember, fundamentalist Mormons have a lot of inbreeding. Add in the idea that looks show holiness and silent conformity is the absolute determination that a woman is good and holy you can see why Amy is rejected by most everyone except her immediate family.
Without spoiling, I will say the ending does leave a bit to be desired. I do understand that this book is geared towards kids so it has to have a happy ending, but the reality for those who leave fundamentalist Mormonism is lot different. I definitely recommend this book to see and understand how people leave and stay in fundamentalist Mormonism.