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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In her sweet, funny, and impassioned memoir The Book of Mormon Girl, Joanna Brooks sheds light onto one of America’s most fascinating but least understood religious traditions.

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

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Overview

In her sweet, funny, and impassioned memoir The Book of Mormon Girl, Joanna Brooks sheds light onto one of America’s most fascinating but least understood religious traditions.

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
“Oh wow. I double dare you to read The Book of Mormon Girl in your book club. Bring a casserole and roll up your sleeves for an original, provocative argument about dissent in faith communities! Even if you’re not one of those fine believers who store up food for the Apocalypse, you’re likely to agree that Joanna Brooks has singlehandedly redefined the word courage. Prepare to be surprised.” –Rhoda Janzen, author of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

"This gorgeously written, deeply intelligent memoir of an ordinary girlhood in an ordinary Mormon family is one of those most unusual and most valuable of personal stories, simultaneously sweeping and intimate, a book of both broad vision and precise detail. The Book of Mormon Girl is about one particular religious subculture, but it will resonate with anyone who cares about childhood and its echoes in the adult mind of a scholar who’s also a wise and innovative storyteller." —Jeff Sharlet, New York Times bestselling author of The Family and Sweet Heaven When I Die

“Laugh-out-loud funny and break-your-heart poignant. A triumph.”–Carol Lynn Pearson, author of No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons Around Our Gay Loved Ones

"Joanna Brooks captures Mormonism in revealing but tender ways that are sure to resonate with insiders and outsiders alike. Mormonism may not yet have found its Chaim Potok, but it has its Joanna Brooks."—R. B. Scott, author of Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and His Politics

“A pathbreaking and utterly necessary memoir.”–Carolyn Forché, celebrated poet and human rights activist

“A compelling memoir of being found and lost and found again. Brooks is a contemporary Mormon pioneer.”–Jana Riess, author of Flunking Sainthood and Mormonism for Dummies

“Disarming, funny, wrenching, and inspiring. This is a quietly fierce, authentic, and faithful voice, one that insists her religious tradition is young, and the next chapter yet to be written.”–Phillip Barlow, Ph.D., Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture, Utah State University

"Enchanting...charming...throughout this heartfelt work [Joanna Brooks] remains braced and true to herself." —Publisher's Weekly

"The Book of Mormon Girl is a luminous ode to Brooks' passion for Mormonism, in spite of her church's rejection. It is a memoir written not just for herself, but for others who continue to pursue their faith in the face of abandonment because "No one should be left to feel like she is the only one broken and seeking." —Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A balanced, heartfelt memoir of honoring a faith and a heritage while challenging church teachings." —Shelf Awareness

"Brooks writes with an urgent intimacy reminiscent of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love,” coating even the most painful memories with a honeyed warmth." —The Boston Globe

"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

"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

"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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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781451699685
Publisher:
Free Press
Publication date:
08/07/2012
Edition description:
Original
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
740,142
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.26(h) x 0.58(d)

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Meet the Author

Joanna Brooks is a national voice on Mormon life and politics, an award-winning scholar of religion and American culture, and the author or editor of five books. She has been featured on American Public Media’s On Being; NPR’s All Things Considered and Talk of the Nation; BBC’s Americana, Interfaith Voices, and Radio West; and in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the CNN Belief Blog, and the Huffington Post. She is senior correspondent for the online magazine ReligionDispatches.org and offers answers to seekers of all stripes at her own site AskMormonGirl.com. Follow @askmormongirl on Twitter, or visit her at JoannaBrooks.org.

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