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Sometime in the distant past, Alis cannot believe it when her parents and their religious community's 40-year-old preacher, Minister Galin, tells her it is the Maker's wish for her to marry him. At only 14, she is terrified at the very idea and feels betrayed by her parents. How can they agree to such a thing? Her arguments come to naught, however. Her mother just counters with, "You are a daughter of the Book. It is your right to be ruled. It is your right to obey. That is all."

But that is not all. The desperate girl hatches a desperate plan. On the surface, she will appear to be persuaded that it is her fate to be married to Minister Galin. Yet she will find a way to leave their community. Her brother, Joel, ran away years ago, and people believe he went to the dangerous, sinful city. Now Alis is determined that somehow, some way, she will escape to the city and be reunited with Joel.

Alis performs her daily chores, helps her mother care for the ailing and elderly, attends the prayer meetings, and most important of all, fakes an agreeable attitude. Three months go by as Alis waits and watches for her chance. And then one day, it arrives. The sister of one of the community's young mothers visits. Mistress Sarah is a pitifully timid waif of a woman who becomes ill when it’s time for her to return to her own community, Two Rivers, and to her husband. Alis suggests to Sarah that she should accompany her home. Sarah arranges for the Two Rivers healers to send a letter stating it would be best for her health if Alis joins her. Alis is ecstatic; she is sure this is her first step toward the city and Joel, and away from her community and Minister Galin.

In Two Rivers, though, she encounters Sarah's husband, Master Thomas. Alis soon realizes that the hateful Thomas is, at the very least, emotionally abusive to Sarah. She is surprised that he speaks slightingly of Minister Galin, insinuating that he is too gentle to be a preacher. Two Rivers is in the middle of a political change, as harsh men such as Thomas are taking control. Thomas insists that Sarah accompany him to a public beating, but Alis spares her by volunteering to go with him. The event is a nightmare beyond anything Alis ever could have imagined.

Alis runs from the beating, sickened by the sight of the man's back being shredded. She meets the town's minister and his wife, Mistress Elizabeth. They are kind people, powerless to stop what is happening in their town. Alis offers to help Elizabeth care for the man who was beaten, and is relieved to move away from Thomas's home to stay with Elizabeth. Alis and the minister and Elizabeth's grandson, Luke, form a surprising bond.

Soon, though, Alis is accused of a crime. With Luke's help, she is on her way, helter-skelter, to the city. She can only hope to find her brother, as her life in the violent city takes one startling twist after another.

ALIS is a richly imagined book with a sympathetic character and a gripping plot. Alis's situation changes unpredictably (keeping the reader agreeably off-kilter), yet never feels unrealistic or contrived. Debut novelist Naomi Rich manages to blend adventure, terror and a bit of romance in a combination that will have readers turning pages far into the night.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on February 19, 2009

by Naomi Rich

  • Publication Date: February 19, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Juvenile
  • ISBN-10: 0670011258
  • ISBN-13: 9780670011254