320p. ebook available. Penguin Pr. Apr. 2016. Tr $27. ISBN 9781101979891.
When 15-year-old Loretta's parents catch her sneaking out at night in 1974 Arizona, they accept Dean Harder's offer to make her his second wife. In their reclusive fundamentalist Mormon community, sister wives help men fulfill the sacred principle of plural marriage. Meanwhile in Idaho, Dean's teenage nephew, Jason, works his more mainstream Mormon family's dairy farm and sneaks off with his grandpa to see Evel Knievel attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon in a steam-powered rocket. Both Loretta and Jason yearn for different lives, but it isn't until the whole family gathers after Grandpa's death that the two teens dare to escape together. Richly descriptive writing and third-person storytelling at first seem to create distance between the characters and readers, and chapters told from Knievel's egotistical first-person point of view are jarring at first. Also, the "ick" factor in the plot includes more than just underage polygamy. There is a violent jackrabbit drive, for example, that Dean organizes with other men to rid Grandpa's farm of the pests that are ruining his crops (they use fire to drive the rabbits into a chute and then bash them to death as they exit). Ultimately, however, the writing is beautiful and the many narrative layers form a subtle and satisfying exploration of courage, lunacy, righteousness, lust, and more.
VERDICT Teens will appreciate this fascinating historical novel for the suspense and complexity of Loretta's and Jason's responses to situations created by the adults in their lives.

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