Eliza Ann Young was in fact the
19th wife of the Mormon leader Brigham Young. Fictional BeckyLyn Scott was the 19th wife of a 21st-century fundamentalist.
Eliza was 24 years old and Brigham Young 67 when they married. After five very unhappy years, Eliza divorced Brigham.
Although five wives had previously divorced Brigham without much ado, the split from Eliza brought scandal and unwanted notoriety to the Mormons, because Eliza campaigned against polygamy.
Using her memoir, also called “The 19th Wife,” and the lecture trail, she campaigned tirelessly for the U.S. Congress to ban polygamy. She prospered by telling her story: With the help of her promoters, she charged $.50 to anyone who came to hear what she had to say.
Interwoven with Eliza’s story is the compelling story of BeckyLyn and her family, members of “The Firsts,” a group that splintered from Mormonism after the official ban on polygamy – which did not end the practice, but drove it underground.
The community of the Firsts, in Mesadale, Utah, is a theocracy; police follow church laws. The police have found a man shot dead, with all evidence leading to his 19th wife, BeckyLyn Scott.
Jordan, BeckyLyn’s only son, excommunicated at 12 for holding hands with a girl, returns from California upon hearing that his mother has been jailed. Twenty years old, he returns to Utah and begins a spellbinding investigation into the murder of his father.
As these two stories from the past and the present intertwine, questions arise: Were the polygamists evil or well-intentioned but misguided? Did polygamy actually work for some families? Was it rape and brainwashing or a benign “Big Love”?
Discussions about this book are likely to extend beyond the parameters of the plot.