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

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

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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451699685
Publisher: Free Press
Publication date: 08/07/2012
Edition description: Original
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 1,224,444
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.26(h) x 0.58(d)

About 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 and offers answers to seekers of all stripes at her own site Follow @askmormongirl on Twitter, or visit her at

Table of Contents

1 plan of salvation 1

2 sparkling difference 13

3 signs of the times 29

4 marie osmond's guide to beauty, health & style 47

5 mormons vs. born-agains-dance-off, rose bowl, 1985 67

6 sister williams's tampons 83

7 object lessons 99

8 files 113

9 sealed portion 143

10 pioneer day 145

11 protect marriage 161

12 gathering the tribes 181

13 the book of mormon girl 199

acknowledgments 205

reading group guide 211

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Book of Mormon Girl includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Joanna Brooks. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. .

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. What did you learn about Mormonism from this book? What assumptions or stereotypes about Mormons did you have before reading? How did this book cause you to reflect on your assumptions? What surprised you? What new insights did you gain? What questions do you now have about the faith?

2. Joanna describes how as a young girl, her religion’s rules made her feel special, like “a root beer among the Coca-Colas.” Were there things in your childhood that separated you from your peers? How did it feel to be different? Did you enjoy the feeling of being unique?

3. Marie Osmond was an important figure in Joanna’s childhood because she was one of the very few celebrities from a similar background. Who were your celebrity role models growing up, and why?

4. When you were a child, how did you think about faith? How have your ideas or beliefs changed over time? Do you have a faith or spiritual practice now? How does it guide you?

5. When young Mormon men turn twelve years old, they are ordained into the lower ranks of the Latter-day Saints (or, LDS) Church’s lay priesthood. There is no comparable religious coming-of-age ceremony for young Mormon women, and Joanna remembers that when she got her first period—another coming-of-age moment— her grandmother told her it was a “curse.” What coming-of-age rituals mark the entrance of girls into adulthood in American culture? Does your religion or culture have customs that honor this transition? How do coming-of-age rituals shape the way young women view themselves?

6. In the chapter on object lessons, Joanna describes sitting in a classroom with other young women and passing a rose around the room for each member of the circle to handle. At the end, when the rose is ruined after being handled by so many people, the young women are told that the rose was like their virtue; nobody would ever want that used flower. What kind of lessons did you hear about sexuality growing up? If you could, what would you say to your sixteen-year-old selves about sex?

7. In 1993, six members of the LDS Church were excommunicated. They were feminists and intellectuals who had written or spoken about controversial subjects. After this action by the Church, Joanna stepped away from the Mormon community for several years. Why do you think she took this step? Have you ever been in a sit- uation where something you believed in took an action you disagreed with? How did you respond?

8. Joanna relates that she did not share most of her internal turmoil about her faith with her parents. She writes, “Perhaps I wanted to protect them from shame. Perhaps I wanted to protect myself from feeling the brunt of their shame.” Are there elements of your life you were not or still are not able to share with your parents? Why?

9. Did your religion play a role in your selection of spouse? Did you marry within your faith? Outside your faith? How has your marriage shaped your relationship to your religion?

10. At several different points in her story, Joanna describes acts of kindness and understanding by friends, acquaintances, and strangers who made a difference to her as she struggled to find her way. Who stood out to you in the story as a mentor or guide? Who do you turn to in your life when you need spiritual advice?

11. The stories of her Mormon pioneer grandmothers give Joanna strength and inspiration for her journey, especially in the Pioneer Day chapter when she returns to church. Do you know your family history? Have you traced your genealogy? What kinds of family stories do you draw inspiration from?

12. At the height of the Proposition 8 campaign, Joanna destroyed some campaign materials she found inside the Mormon church building where she had attended church as a child. What do you think motivated her? Was this a courageous or a cowardly act? What would you have done?

13. Joanna and her husband are raising their children in two faiths—Mormonism and Judaism. She describes how everyone in the family “knows how to pray in at least two languages.” What languages exist in your family? Do you have cultural and spiritual traditions that are unique?

14. Joanna describes her dream of a more welcoming Mormonism where everyone has a place at the table. Is anyone excluded from the table in your faith community, culture, neighborhood, or family? What would it take to bring them in? What might your community lose, and what could it gain?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. While The Book of Mormon Girl is an extremely personal story, Joanna Brooks is also a public speaker who regularly gives talks and lectures about her views. Go to YouTube and watch some clips of her speaking in different public forums. What kind of added insight do you have from listening to her speak?

One purpose of this memoir is to address misunderstandings about Mormonism by creating a more humane and three-dimensional picture of Mormon life and culture. You can continue to learn about a diverse range of Mormon people by viewing self-created profiles at the LDS Church’s website and the independent Mormon Women Project site ( On YouTube, you can also see the “It Gets Better at Brigham Young University” video made by and for young gay Mormons.

Throughout the book, Joanna talks about insights that she wishes she could share with her younger self. Is there someone in your life for whom you could be a mentor?

Food plays an important cultural role in Joanna’s home. Try making some of the Pioneer Day recipes she describes and serve them to the rest of the group. Joanna and her friends sometimes hold Mormon Desserts parties celebrating the kinds of desserts they remember eating as children at church parties: most included lots of Jell-O and Cool Whip!

Strawberry Pretzel Jell-O Dessert

2 cups crushed pretzels

3 T sugar

½ cup butter, melted

one 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened

¾ cup sugar

one (8 oz.) carton Cool Whip

one (6 oz.) package strawberry Jell-O

2 cups boiling water

one (20 oz.) package frozen strawberries (use fresh if in season)

Combine and press pretzels, sugar, and butter into a 9" x 13"–pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Allow crust to cool. Blend cream cheese, sugar, and Cool Whip. Spread on crust. Mix together Jell-O, water, and strawberries. Spread on top of Cool Whip blend. Refrigerate overnight if possible.

A Conversation with Joanna Brooks

What are the questions you get asked the most about being a Mormon? What are the biggest misconceptions that you wanted to rectify with this book?

From its beginnings in the 1830s, Mormonism has always attracted attention, curiosity, and misunderstanding. During the late-nineteenth century especially, Mormons were depicted in American newspapers and political cartoons as a dangerous and murderous polygamous sect. Some of those images persist in the American imagination to this day. One of the ways Mormons have coped with a broad misunderstanding of our faith is to try to project an image of ourselves as being perfectly All-American, with big, monogamous, hard-working, happy families. Think of the Osmonds! Think of Mitt and Ann Romney and their five sons! The truth of who we are lies somewhere between the extremes. Mormons take pride in our distinctive history and comfort in our faith. But we too are regular human beings who struggle with ordinary life challenges. We live in every state in the United States and country around the world. And there is growing diversity within the faith. Not all of us look, think, feel, or believe the same way, even as we all belong to the Mormon tradition.

You describe a wariness in the Mormon community to share too much with the outside world. How did it feel to share your story with your friends and family? Were you surprised by any of the reactions they had?

Lots of Mormons are wary about sharing tender or private elements of our faith with non-Mormons. There’s a general fear that what we consider tender and meaningful will be ridiculed by strangers; ridicule has long been a part of Mormon experience. There are also controversial elements of Mormon history, like polygamy or the historic ban on priesthood ordination for people of African descent, that Mormons ourselves feel embarrassed by or deeply ambivalent about. It’s not easy to talk about these subjects even in our own communities, let alone with people who don’t belong to the faith—and yet so much media attention focuses on these hot-buttons! Over the last year or two, as public interest in Mormonism has grown, I’ve written a great deal about Mormonism for the public and appeared on radio and television. I have always tried to speak candidly and humanely about my faith. My experience has been that if one approaches sensitive topics with dignity, humanity, candor, and even a bit of humor, it bridges misunderstandings and humanizes all participants in the conversation. I’d say good experiences outnumber ridicule by a ten-to-one margin. As for my family and friends, I always say that no one asks to have a writer in the family. The LDS community tends to be quite conservative, so I know that my willingness to share my story has brought some pressure upon my family. I also know for a fact that my mother reads every word I publish, and yet though she and I talk frequently, we never really talk about my writing—not even this book! I hope that she and all the good Mormon people I grew up with can see in these pages my fondness for all they taught me and the memories they created. My church youth leaders especially gave of themselves so generously; it wasn’t easy teaching young people about doctrine or sexual morality or even camping! But they did, and I am grateful. I should also say that the Mormon congregation I belong to now is very kind and accepting of me and my family, and I am grateful for them as well.

What kinds of conversations has the book elicited? What would you say to readers who have their own personal stories that they want to share but are concerned about how people might react?

I’ve gotten lovely mail from young Mormon women especially, who tell me that my story has helped them feel less alone. That’s deeply satisfying to me, especially because I remember how alone I once felt. There were so few books in which I found anything that resembled or spoke to my own experience. When I was very young, there was, of course, Marie Osmond’s Guide to Beauty, Health & Style, but Marie was way out of my league! In college, I found environmentalist Terry Tempest Williams’s book Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, in which she talks about how her family’s Mormon faith taught her to question authority. That made an impression on me. One of the greatest lessons I have learned in writing The Book of Mormon Girl is that admitting our own differences, vulnerabilities, and struggles can be a powerful act. Of course, you might feel afraid or ashamed. Courage doesn’t mean being free from fear; it means learning to work through fear and speak even when we are afraid. I believe that when we do so, we give others the courage to speak more honestly about their own vulnerabilities and struggles as well. No one should be the only one who feels like she has ever made a mistake or struggled with her ideals or taken a path different than the one expected of her. Our stories can shelter and keep each other company as we learn from our experiences.

In chapter 11 of the book, you describe some profound disagreements you have with certain actions of the LDS Church, but say that you are not giving up. How do you reconcile these conflicting emotions, and what steps are you taking to change the faith from the inside? What advice do you have for others in similar positions?

Change tends to come very slowly to the LDS Church. There is a strong sense of respect for authority and hierarchy; more orthodox Mormons might say that real change can only come when top church leaders direct it. But I have also seen many remarkable changes happen among rank-and-file Mormons over the last decades. Mormon scholars and historians have done valuable research into Mormon history that acknowledges the human side of our tradition, including its human flaws. Mormon feminists, gay and lesbian Mormons and their families and allies, and Mormons who may not be literal believers but still cherish the faith have also reached out to one another and offered support and companionship. I am very proud of the brave gay and lesbian Mormons— even students at Brigham Young University—who have found the courage to share their stories. Their courage lights a way to greater compassion and understanding within our faith community.

Throughout the book, you talk about things that you wish someone had told you when you were growing up. What do you think the most important lesson is, for young Mormons but also for any young reader?

I always think back to the story of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon faith. When he was just fourteen years old, he harbored deep questions about the religions available to him. None felt right, and he read a scripture in the New Testament that said, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” And he did. Joseph Smith went into the woods and prayed for guidance. That is the story of how Mormonism started—it all started when a courageous fourteen-year-old followed the questioning, seeking spirit inside of him. There is a powerful lesson there for all of us. Don’t be afraid to ask big questions. Don’t be afraid to trust the leadings inside of you. That’s the way to truth.

What are the biggest difficulties in raising your children in an interfaith household? What are the biggest rewards? Do you have any advice for people in a similar position?

The biggest difficulties so far are very practical ones: we’re busy! We’re busy doing two sets of holidays! We’re busy doing two sets of everything! I know that more serious challenges may lie ahead. Many Jewish people especially have real reservations about raising children in two faith traditions, and I want to acknowledge the seriousness of those reservations. But it was simply impossible for me not to give my children a Mormon faith education, and it was equally impossible for me to deny them a Jewish education, identity, and connection to their Jewish ancestors. David and I tell the girls that being members of an interfaith family means that they have to learn twice as much as the other kids. Religion is about responsibility to a community and a tradition, and we’ve got to be doubly responsible. David and I have also learned that as interfaith family parents we have to take full responsibility for our children’s spiritual education. We can’t simply rely on a single institution—be it a church or a synagogue—to teach them. It has to start at our dinner table. We try to infuse our daily lives with a living sense of these two religious worlds— their joys, their demands, their struggles, their foods, their humor, their values. It is up to us.

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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.