Skip to main content

The Prophet Calls

Review

The Prophet Calls

Hidden away in northern New Mexico, close to the Sangre de Christo mountains, is the polygamous community of Watchful. Gentry Forrester has lived her whole life in Watchful, with her father, his wives, and her siblings and half siblings. They are guided by the Prophet, their founder and leader who is currently serving time in a Texas prison. The Prophet dictates all aspects of their lives: who marries whom and when, what work each person undertakes and even what they wear. But 13-year-old Gentry, the heroine of Melanie Sumrow’s THE PROPHET CALLS, is starting to bristle under Watchful’s oppressive atmosphere to question the legitimacy of the Prophet’s power.

"THE PROPHET CALLS does a good job in capturing the tensions in Gentry’s community, the terror and anger she feels, and the courage it takes for her to stand up for herself and the people she loves."

Gentry loves her family, especially her older brother Tanner and her younger sister Amy. Her mother, one of her father’s three wives, has gifted her children with the love of music. Amy finds comfort in playing records and both Tanner and Gentry are talented violin players. The pair have worked hard for a musical performance at a festival in Santa Fe, even though they have always been taught to distrust and fear the outside world. But just before the festival, the Prophet declares that women and girls are too vulnerable to leave the confines of the community, and Gentry sees her opportunity to share her music start to disappear. The decision by her and Tanner to leave Watchful to play at the festival, against the Prophet’s direct orders, sets in motion a series of events that promise to destroy Gentry’s family and send shockwaves through the community.

Much of Gentry’s resistance centers on the terrible treatment of women and girls in Watchful and its Canadian sister community called Waiting. Marriages are arranged by the Prophet and are usually made between older men and very young women. Those women have little to no say in the decision and are expected to submit, physically and emotionally, to their husbands. When the Prophet decries that Gentry’s 15-year-old sister Meryl must marry one of the community leaders, Gentry’s opposition to the Prophet grows even stronger. The Prophet, too, has the ability to dissolve families and send community members away, sometimes never to be heard from again. To punish her family for her lack of compliance, Gentry’s brother and father are banished, the rest of the family moved to Canada where her mother is remarried. Though the rules against music and the curtailing of other freedoms, not to mention the abuse of Amy, who has Down Syndrome, all factor into the terrible and dangerous situation, Sumrow zooms in on the damages done by the repressive ideas about gender and sexuality and the absolute power wielded by cruel men in the community. Though the reading level is not challenging for a middle grade novel, the ideas about gender, power, religion and abuse are sophisticated and often scary. Younger readers may not have the background knowledge or maturity to handle some of these themes, especially as Sumrow provides little context.

THE PROPHET CALLS does a good job in capturing the tensions in Gentry’s community, the terror and anger she feels, and the courage it takes for her to stand up for herself and the people she loves. Those people, as characters, are not quite as well developed as one would hope: the women are passive, most of the men disgusting, the children complacent and the community itself --- its history and culture --- not well drawn. Sumrow does more than suggest that her fictional community lines up with polygamous groups that have broken away from the mainstream LDS Church, and that is problematic if readers conflate the world Sumrow is describing with the LDS Church, which has disavowed these practices. The resolution of the novel is quite neat and tidy and jarring relative the rest of the novel. In the end, Gentry has suffered much trauma and finally escaped into the wider world. But having left her family and all she has ever known behind, she is simply given a haircut and a new violin. Ultimately one wishes Sumrow had done more to create a new story and had done better by her heroine.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on November 29, 2018

The Prophet Calls
by Melanie Sumrow

  • Publication Date: November 6, 2018
  • Genres: Family, Fiction, Religion, Youth Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Yellow Jacket
  • ISBN-10: 1499807554
  • ISBN-13: 9781499807554