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Brooks, "The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories of an American Faith" (reviewed by Marilyn Brown) Options · View
Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2012 8:36:55 PM

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Title: The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories of an American Faith
Author: Joanna Brooks
Publisher: JoannaBrooks.org
Genre: Novel
Year Published: 2012
Number of Pages: Kindle, approx. 200
Price: Kindle, $3.99

Reviewed by Marilyn Brown for the Association for Mormon Letters

Enough is going around about Mormons these days that this book ought to be a big one.

I’ve been slogging through several wordy, less than spectacular “Mormon novels” and this “creative nonfiction” was a breath of fresh air. Just reading the first few page convinced me Joanna Brooks knows how to write, and I found myself eager to read!

I was not disappointed. Near the end she reveals that she learned to write at BYU from Darrell Spencer, Leslie Norris, Susan Howe, and Louise Plummer, etc. She caught on to something, because, better than most of our LDS writers, she offers some amazing poetry, as in her observation of the popular girls who “shimmered like the flanks of caramel-colored palominos in the sun.” Or, her most lovely description of our temple work: “By our labors, our ancestors are baptized again, and married to each other once again, but this time for the eternities; beyond the scuttle of drying leaves and the clouds of fruit flies, and the musky warmth of bodies in bed in the morning, they are sealed up against chaos and perdition.” Beautiful.

It was not only the quality of writing that kept me reading. The “tone” spawned questions. Her breezy style, almost making fun of our childhood “Mormon education” unsettled me. I wanted to find out where she was going. Especially when she said, at the end of Chapter 1, “In the world I grew up in, it was not okay to tell unorthodox stories. We did not hear them in church, we did not read them in scripture. But sooner or later they break through to the surface in every Mormon life, in every line of faith. I am not afraid of them. Because this is the story life has given me to tell.”

The first seven chapters regale us with laugh-out-loud descriptions of growing up Mormon, including handling the rose, a metaphor for spoiling the virtue of a young woman; Marie Osmond’s “guide” toward learning to be beautiful; and “funeral potatoes.” But sure enough, at about Chapter 8, I discovered the “unorthodox” story she needed to tell, and I have to admit, it was fascinating.

In the middle of the “feminist movement” that excommunicated Lavina Anderson and troubled Carol Lynn Pearson’s focus on the “Heavenly Mother” and the campaign in California to vote YES on 8 for keeping marriage between a man and a woman, Brooks expresses, in her excellent prose, the trauma of separating herself from the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Because I catapult my thoughts along a series of metaphors on a LADDER OF LANGUAGE, it has been gratefully easier for me to stay with the mainstream. I view the “Language of Mormonism” in somewhat the same way conservatives insist that our “aliens” learn English. I don’t mind speaking and loving the orthodox . But to understand feminism and gay rights, etc., some move out of the “orthodox” into zones that are sometimes uncomfortable—into a language of explaining things that seem foreign. To me, the authorities just want the rebels to speak LDS so that the orthodox coming up in the ranks don’t get confused. It seems to me President Hinckley’s reign was the end of “excluding anyone.”

I won’t spoil the story by telling what happens, but her final statement includes Mormons. She wants Mormons to include everyone else, no matter the color of their skin or what language they speak. Of course she is right. We are all God’s children. But I sense she understands there is room for a “strict” education. She honors her Mormon ancestry and wants her two young daughters to honor it also.

Though it troubles me that the “unorthodox” seems to make better “stories,” this one comes close to being the kind of description of Mormon life that affirms what I feel is the most amazing movement taking place on this earth. I wish those of us who never moved from it could write as interesting a tale.

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