The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith

The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith

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by Joanna Brooks

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From her days of feeling like “a root beer among the Cokes”—Coca-Cola being a forbidden fruit for Mormon girls like her—Joanna Brooks always understood that being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints set her apart from others. But, in her eyes, that made her special; the devout LDS home she grew up in was filled with

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From her days of feeling like “a root beer among the Cokes”—Coca-Cola being a forbidden fruit for Mormon girls like her—Joanna Brooks always understood that being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints set her apart from others. But, in her eyes, that made her special; the devout LDS home she grew up in was filled with love, spirituality, and an emphasis on service. With Marie Osmond as her celebrity role model and plenty of Sunday School teachers to fill in the rest of the details, Joanna felt warmly embraced by the community that was such an integral part of her family. But as she grew older, Joanna began to wrestle with some tenets of her religion, including the Church’s stance on women’s rights and homosexuality. In 1993, when the Church excommunicated a group of feminists for speaking out about an LDS controversy, Joanna found herself searching for a way to live by the leadings of her heart and the faith she loved.

The Book of Mormon Girl is a story about leaving behind the innocence of childhood belief and embracing the complications and heartbreaks that come to every adult life of faith. Joanna’s journey through her faith explores a side of the religion that is rarely put on display: its humanity, its tenderness, its humor, its internal struggles. In Joanna’s hands, the everyday experience of being a Mormon—without polygamy, without fundamentalism—unfolds in fascinating detail. With its revelations about a faith so often misunderstood and characterized by secrecy, The Book of Mormon Girl is a welcome advocate and necessary guide.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this enchanting memoir, Brooks, a San Diego religion scholar (American Lazarus), portrays her pious Mormon upbringing in Southern California as both deeply grounding and later stiflingly sexist and politically wrongheaded. The descendant of Mormon “pioneers” who trekked out to Utah to establish their community of separatist believers, and raised among her large family in Orange County, Brooks re-creates with enormous feeling the sense of belonging inculcated by the community of kindly, well-intentioned Latter Day Saints who practiced strict rules about Bible study, baptism at age eight, reading the Book of Mormon, tithing, and keeping pure of mind and body. she and her sister Mormons, vilified by outsiders as a polygamous cult, felt strengthened by their “sparkling difference” from other people, such as in preparing for the end of the world, learning beauty lessons from Marie Osmond, and gaining insights into women’s roles from the church sisters while camping at age 15—all of which Brooks treats in charming, discrete short story�like chapters. Yet while studying at Brigham Young University, Brooks grew alarmed at patronizing attitudes by male leaders, scandals regarding surveillance files kept by the authorities, and excommunication of feminist critics. Brooks chronicles her painful years of “exile” from her faith and marriage to a Jewish man, culminating in her political opposition to the Mormons’ concerted 2008 effort to keep gay marriage illegal in California. Throughout this heartfelt work she remains braced and true to herself. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
"Brooks’s sprightly yet thoughtful prose, her carefully constructed narrative and her passionate yet forgiving activism make hers a rare memoir that ended too soon. It is a triumphal declaration of unorthodox faith and an engaging — if unconventional — introduction to an American religion." —The Washington Post

"A thought-provoking, conversation-starting memoir for those interested in Mormonism, feminism, and religion in general." —Library Journal

"Joanna writes a beautifully crafted memoir about growing up as a Mormon, how her life as a young kid felt and how it changed over time when she went to college and became a self-proclaimed feminist (not something closely associated with the Mormon Church at the time). The book is a terrific read, especially if you've ever gone through a period in your life where you've questioned your faith and background. You must read it!" —Huffington Post

Library Journal
This engaging memoir is a welcome addition to the recent flood of books about Mormonism. Brooks (English & comparative literature, San Diego State Univ.; American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African American and Native American Literatures) left the faith and married a Jewish man. She eventually returned to Mormonism, albeit with a feminist, liberal bent. She talks openly about her childhood and the quirks that resulted from her Mormon upbringing. She struggles between her yearning to return to a familiar faith while having decidedly different opinions about issues like women's roles and gay marriage. Taking on the role of spokeswoman for Mormons who don't fit the mold, Brooks describes her activism and return to the religion of her birth. VERDICT A thought-provoking, conversation-starting memoir for those interested in Mormonism, feminism, and religion in general. The book includes a reading group guide as well as an interview with the author.—Holly Hebert, Brentwood P.L., TN
Kirkus Reviews
A scholar of religion and culture struggles to integrate her strong religious beliefs with a deepening awareness of social injustice. Brooks (American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures, 2003, etc.) evokes the close-knit joys and apocalyptic fears of growing up within the Mormon Church during the 1970s and '80s, a time many Mormons believed to be the prophesied "latter days." Living in California, far from the welcoming environs of Utah, she endured snickers about sacred undergarments and angels from other planets, agonized over drinking Sprite while the other children drank Coca-Cola, and cringed through a humiliating anti-Mormon comedy routine at a friend's evangelical megachurch. While the author also emphasizes the positive aspects of Mormonism, especially the industrious goodwill fostered by a long line of pioneer ancestors, she excels at portraying the complexities of doubt in the midst of faith. In one powerful chapter, she recounts how she confessed to her bishop, per church doctrine, that she had had a premarital sexual experience; the bishop responded with a parable about a school-bus driver who was able to avert disaster by putting on the brakes before hitting a train. Feeling empty and patronized, she experienced disillusionment with the traditional Mormon view of sexuality but found refuge in the teachings of feminist professors at Brigham Young University. In the early '90s, however, the church began a crackdown on dissidents, and several of these professors resigned; Brooks returned her BYU diploma in protest. She describes the decade after graduation as a time of exile when she felt estranged from her faith yet also worked toward a doctorate degree, married a Jewish man, and gave birth to two daughters. Eventually making her way back to the church on her own terms, she declares herself "an unorthodox Mormon woman with a fierce and hungry faith." This well-crafted examination of spiritual longing shows how one woman has carved out a niche inside the religion she loves despite its contradictions.
The Washington Post
…Joanna Brooks describes her 1980s Southern California Mormon childhood in loving and witty detail…Brooks's sprightly yet thoughtful prose, her carefully constructed narrative and her passionate yet forgiving activism make hers a rare memoir that ended too soon. It is a triumphal declaration of unorthodox faith and an engaging—if unconventional—introduction to an American religion.
—John G. Turner

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Free Press
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5.60(w) x 8.26(h) x 0.58(d)


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The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
City61 More than 1 year ago
The book cover describes the author, Joanna Brooks, as a "nationsl voice on Mormon life and culture" having been featured on the BBC NPR, and CNN along with coverage by the New York Times and Washington Post. She is portrayed as having "single handedly redefined the word courage." The reader may or may not agree with these characterizations after completing this memoir of a girl growing up as a member of a small minority in Southern California. It may appear to some that her passionate support of same sex marriage in opposition to the official church policy and the great majority of her co-religionists is the major, if not sole, reason for her becoming a darling of much of the media. And her support of this redefinition of marriage is indeed passionate as she is overcome with grief because of her church's major role in the passage of Proposition 8 in California which bans gay marriage. She repeats a number of times that "I feel as if my heart has been thrown to the concrete and a cinder block dropped on it." She weeps. She rushes out of a church service with her two year old when words supporting traditional marriage are part of a prayer. If you want to gain real insight into Mormon life, culture, and history, this may be disasppointing. If so, I can highly recommend three recently published books on the subject which are truly excellent: Paul Gutjahr, "The Book of Mormon: A Biography, John C. Turner, "Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet" and Matthew Bowman, "The Mormon People:The Making of an American Faith."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Was interesting and informational sometimes it seemed to drag on and i jost my interst all in all a good read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Barb82 More than 1 year ago
interesting look at the history and a girls family life as a mormon. I found it very informative...good read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TravisS More than 1 year ago
In her memoir, Brooks encapsulates the beautiful community and culture I also experienced growing up in the Church in the 1980s and 90s. As an active LDS, I find her journey inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time.
William_Goode More than 1 year ago
This book is perfect precisely because it speaks from a place of imperfection, cutting right to the humanity of things. It is brave, candid, joyful and heartbreaking all at the same time. I bought copies for a bunch of my friends, a number of them chose this book for their book groups and said it was a "favorite of the year". If you like memoir, this is an important book at an important time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read this book. It took me a weekend and I loved it. It is a story about a journey -- and as we all take on the journey this life has given us, this book reminded me that I am in charge. I don't have to abandon my heritage for my future -- I'm in control. Plus, I laughed and cried and felt uplifted -- what more do you want in a book? I can't think of anything, so that's why I gave it five stars. Next time you need a rainy Saturday book, this should be your pick.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ok exosted love u ..... YOU GIVE LOVE A BAD NAME!!! SI!;)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the diverse views within the LDS community.
fMhLisa More than 1 year ago
I loved this book, as a Mormon girl, I recognized so much of her story in my own life, I too had big cans of wheat storage in my home growing up and worried about the end times with every earth quake, but I also reveled in the importance of my role in these great events because I was a special Mormon girl with the truth on my side. This book gives a great view into the private quiet side of Mormon culture, with entertaining prose, you get to see how Mormon families work from the inside, what it's like to grow up Mormon, and how it feels when your faith makes a transition. Clear-eyed, but still full of love for Mormons in all our peculiar glory.
Jackielondon More than 1 year ago
As a reader of Brooks' political blogging at Religion Dispatches I was fascinated to read this elegant, honest, and moving memoir. Joanna Brooks's book joins the ranks of the best recent spiritual memoirs--from Jan Willis' "Dreaming Me" to Stephanie Saldana's "The Bread of Angels"--and is all the more important in that it pushes boundaries, staking a claim for Mormon feminism, making space for new women's voices. Plus it's a gripping, fantastic read.
CicadasUrbanas More than 1 year ago
This is book to buy, relish, and then pass around! The Book of Mormon Girl is currently making the rounds around the women in my big and complicated Mormon family. First, I read it. Then, my mom, and now my sisters. Amazingly, marvelously, in the midst of short and sweet stories that can almost be re-told around a Girl's Camp campfire, Joanna Brooks does not scrimp on any of the contradictions or complexities of being a smart young girl, and later an accomplished and fiercely intelligent woman, within the Mormon faith community.
KBJD More than 1 year ago
Joanna Brook's tells an excellent story of her very Mormon child and young adulthood. Many Mormons will relate to the things she describes: the fun pioneer day celebrations, the home-made fruit preserves, feeling as if you had the answers to the big questions in life—what will happen when we die, how do we fit in this increasingly complex and frightening world? Mormon women will relate to the desperation Brooks so eloquently describes: “For years, I cried every time I set foot in a Mormon ward house. Crying out of fear and anger and loneliness and misunderstanding. Crying that the Church had punished women like me, people like me, leaving us exiled among our own.” (Kindle location 1687). Beginning in her teens, through her young adult years at BYU and beyond into graduate school, she questions the value of her gender. These questions increasingly appear to cause her despair and angst. Then, she describes her complete dismay and disagreement with the LDS position on Proposition 8, California’s successful ballot measure which overturned the legislated and judicially upheld law allowing same-sex marriage. In contravention of LDS policy, she openly advocates voting “No” on Proposition 8. Yet Brooks barely alludes to the real problems with Mormonism: the suppression and misrepresentation by Church leaders of historical facts. Members who have questioned this white-washed version of Mormonism’s historical and theological foundation have been criticized. Leaders have openly denounced intelligent inquiry into these issues. Members of the LDS hierarchy have pronounced as heretical the discussion, let alone exhibition, of true feminine power and have unabashedly exhibited the above-described patent bigotry against same sex-marriage. Why so much backlash against an advocacy of true history and basic human rights? Why all the insular Mormon secrets and narrow-minded thinking? The author conveniently skips over the real, underlying problem with the LDS Religion: that it was built and continues to be presented as something that historical documents reveal it never was: gospel teachings from an ancient history written by American prophets on golden plates. Brooks ends her book with a plea for a pluralistic Zion, one that mirrors her marriage to her Jewish husband and their admirable effort to bring both religious (and perhaps cultural) traditions together for the sake of their young children. Hers is a worthy goal. However, it cannot be obtained by sweeping real doctrinal and historical issues under the carpet as Brooks has done. These need to be exposed and examined for what they are, addressed openly and then, dealt with. This is something that, absent a demand from Mormons within the Church, will never be done. Yet this very thing is what is necessary. Brooks doesn’t want to be a victim, decries any civil action for redress based upon a false representation of the source of the religion (yet, by her very admission of the possibility, inadvertently acknowledges a real problem): “Do we sue to get our tithes and offerings back, all the dollars we faithfully mailed to Salt Lake City, to build temples we would never see?” (Kindle location 2261). Here she seems to have some sort of insider’s knowledge that the LDS Church is cutting back on its temple building. The author seems to forget a teaching that is true in most all religions: repentance. The secular counterpart to confess, redress, forgive and “go and sin no more,” is restitution. A proper civil action filed against those who have committed fraud in the inducement is nothing more than Mormons seeking redress for the sin committed against them by their leaders. It is restitution! Certainly Hebraic theology would endorse such an attempt. There is nothing wrong or sinful in bringing a lawsuit against an entity that has misrepresented its origins, and by doing so, obtained billions of dollars in tithes under false pretenses. This is redress, an important step in the repentance of the LDS hierarchy. Some would argue (even if only from a psychological perspective) that it is impossible to move on, to achieve that pluralistic utopia to which Brooks aspires, without such a step.