The latest from the marvelous pen of Johnny Townsend!

If you like short stories and you’re interested in the lives of Mormons, you should be following the work of Johnny Townsend.

Since he writes from an ex-Mormon perspective, believers often dismiss Townsend’s work as biased — or as a priori “an attack on the church” — but I think that’s a mistake. Johnny Townsend writes his characters with a great deal of compassion and empathy, whether they’re in the church or out… or somewhere in between. He demonstrates genuine interest in people and curiosity about their experiences and possibilities.

Although almost all of Townsend’s stories involve Mormons, Mormonism isn’t always center stage. He explores various possible life situations — in all their sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, sometimes surprising glory — within this milieu that he knows so well.

Here’s a taste of some of the books he’s written lately:

Behind the Zion Curtain Behind the Zion Curtain is a series of powerful vignettes in which people grapple with one of humanity’s most pressing questions: “What should I do with my life?” Mormonism provides extensive and detailed answers, but they’re not necessarily good or helpful answers, as we see in the story of a missionary whose mission president deliberately humiliates him as a condition of promotion and in the tale of a woman who discovers that she feels relieved and free upon learning of her husband’s death.

True to real life, the exmos aren’t portrayed as having an easy time with this question either, and often find themselves at a loss when trying to figure out what to do that would be worthwhile and make a difference.

Gayrabian Nights Gayrabian Nights is a short-story collection (various authors) whose premise is a riff on the classic One thousand and one Arabian Nights. In this case, the storyteller is a gay sex-worker who has been hired by a closeted-gay Mormon senator who is planning to vote in favor of a bill denying rights to same-sex couples. The young sex-worker decides to try to keep the senator up all night in hopes that he’ll miss the vote the next day — or maybe even have a change of heart.

Townsend portrays the hypocritical politician with sympathy, and even though each character starts the evening with an agenda, they grow to understand each other through the course of their magical night of wild-and-raunchy Mormon stories. It’s a refreshing story arc for our modern age of political and religious polarization.

Lying for the Lord Lying for the Lord is a short-story collection in which Johnny Townsend explores the places where relationships come into conflict with Mormon beliefs and practices. From the tale of a family who chooses to use Christmas as an intervention for an apostate family member to the story of a Mormon man whose wife refuses to follow the commandment to have children, the characters in this series are faced with interesting dilemmas that they handle in memorable ways.

Missionaries Make the Best Companions And — as if that weren’t already a lot to have published in 2014/2015 — Townsend has a new book coming out, Missionaries Make the Best Companions!!

Mormon lit fans, I hope you’ll enjoy this feast from Johnny Townsend!

Sunday in Outer Blogness: Response edition

The big news this week is that Kate Kelly has appealed her excommunication.

In her appeal, Kate wrote:

I am, and have always been, a faithful Mormon. My only “sin” elucidated by you has been speaking my mind and pushing for gender equality in the Church. Far from being wrong, I believe I am following the pattern of revelation taught by Christ in the scriptures: ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you.

Kate’s husband also wrote a letter, questioning why he was not excommunicated when Kate was. My emphasis in bold below:

As a Melchizedek priesthood holder your failure to discipline me regarding my actions with Ordain Women demonstrates the inherent sexism in the disciplinary process taken against my wife. Neither you nor Bishop H* have contacted me or spoken to me about my involvement in Ordain Women. Therefore, I formally request you overturn Bishop H*’s excommunication decision regarding Kate and I request you reinstate her to full fellowship in the Church.

He has a point. Others have pointed out that the process seems flawed – Kate is publicly excommunicated but John Dehlin is not. At least, John hasn’t been excommunicated yet.

The feminists at fmh are wondering about a lost and tired generation. Truthfully, I left around the same time as the 1993 excommunications, but for different reasons. Yet I understand the frustration of wanting to remain in the community, and knowing that change was not going to come (if ever). It’s been a difficult few months for many believing mormons, particularly feminist mormons.

Rock has advice for those who may soon be ex’d – he will be at Sunstone next weekend – and he has a new book out What to Expect When You’re Excommunicated. His brief synopsis is:

designed this book partly with your mother-in-law in mind. If you have friends and loved ones who don’t ‘get’ you, who are convinced that you can’t be a faithful member of this church without displaying the requisite deference to modern Church leaders, this book may help those close to you come to understand that Jesus Christ does not require anything like that from members of His church.

I wish I could attend Sunstone this year, my cousin John Hamer is presenting on a panel titled “A Diversity of Faith: A panel on Heaven and Hell”, one titled “Project Zion: Pulling forward key threads of the restoration for a post-modern world”, and “Mormonism and the problem of heterodoxy”. I will be missing out! Hope everyone has a great time and can fill those of us in who were not able to attend the symposium this year.

In other news this week, Runtu was wondering if missionaries are leaving. Froggie had photos published.

It was pie and beer day – although dooce points out that you can’t buy beer in Utah on Pioneer day. Donna attended a pioneer exmo gathering. Knotty is moving. And I agree with Alexis that nothing is ever routine, ever.

And speaking of pioneers, if you haven’t listened to any of the year of polygamy podcasts – I highly recommend them. I particularly liked the recent one about Heber C. Kimball and his wives (and children), as well as the one about polygamy in public and private. It leads me to wonder more about how polygamy worked among my own ancestors in early Utah.

I’m sure I missed lots of what’s been going on – I hope everyone is well and enjoying their last few days in July!

No longer invisible: Latter-Gay Saints

They try to convince gay people that it’s in their best interests to be straight. In fact, they try to convince them that they’re already straight. (from “Ockham’s Razor”)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a gay problem. Specifically, the church has a plan for how to build eternal families — with non-negotiably gender-specific roles — and gay people are the fly in the eternal ointment. If only they could be convinced that they’re not gay — that there’s no such thing as being gay! — and that they can make a straight family work if only they’re faithful enough. Or, failing that, they should just stay single until they’re cured in the afterlife. Then the Plan of Salvation will go back to fitting everyone!

The trouble is that these are real people with real lives that the CoJCoL-dS is performing this experiment on.

One way to combat invisibility is to tell your stories. That’s what 25 authors have come together to do in the anthology Latter-Gay Saints, edited by Gerald S. Argetsinger (with Jeff Laver and Johnny Townsend). The stories are all fiction, but they paint a vibrant and true-to-life portrait of the gay Mormon experience. Naturally, the stories cover topics like missions and mixed-orientation marriage, AIDS and suicide. Some of the most disturbing scenes involve private worthiness interviews in which a priesthood leader probably sincerely believes he’s being helpful through intimate and emotionally invasive counseling sessions where the gay person — by definition — cannot be “worthy.”

The characters in the stories are fleshed-out people whose lives included homosexuality and Mormonism — they’re not just stand-ins in a morality tale of the intersection of these two central topics. A couple of the most outrageous ones hardly touched on Mormonism at all, like Dirk Vanden’s visionary “Gay Messiah” or Ron Oliver’s “Nestle’s Revenge” — which started out wild and exploded from there! Bernard Cooper’s “Hunters and Gatherers” roped a bunch of unsuspecting gay folks into a Mormon-style fun activity (with a poignant edge of keeping up appearances, Mormon-style), and for further fun, Donna Banta threw in a gay Mormon murder mystery! I’d like to discuss them all, but I don’t want to turn this into a tl;dr. People who have read it are invited to please add your own remarks in the comments!

One weakness that disappointed me a bit was how few lesbian stories were included. The introduction repeatedly refers to “gay and lesbian” stories, but the anthology includes only one story where the main character is a gay woman, leaving the lesbian Mormon experience as invisible as ever. Perhaps we’ll hear more from the ladies in the next volume…?

Overall it’s great collection; an enjoyable, edifying, thought-provoking read. Pick up a copy if you’re a fan of gay Mormons or simply of interesting stories!

Mormon Alumni Association Books!

Faith-promoting LDS books have a whole publishing-and-distribution network in Deseret Books (plus Seagull and others) — not to mention Mormon literature organizations and a ready-made audience in LDS wards around the world who’d like to help Orson Whitney’s prediction “We will yet have Miltons and Shakspeares of our own” come true. But what if your book is less faith-promoting, yet you think it would be of interest to people with a Mormon background? It can be a bit more challenging for your book and audience to find each other!

That’s where Mormon Alumni Association Books comes in. Mormon Alumni Association Books is an informal cooperative association of authors helping each other to promote and improve their books. It is centered around a website and a facebook group, and is organized by me, C.L. Hanson (contact: chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com) in conjunction with the outer blogness blogroll and the community blog Main Street Plaza.

How to participate and help out:

  • Have a look at the MAA site and read any books that strike your fancy! If you like them, recommend them to your friends, and your book group!
  • Write book reviews — and tell me about them so I can link to them. (Post reviews either on MSP or on another site.)
  • Write articles for MSP! Despite that crap about “you can leave the church but you can’t leave it alone” the reality is that most people who stop believing in Mormonism typically only feel like talking about Mormonism occasionally. That’s fine, but it makes it trickier to keep the site regularly filled with interesting content (aside from my weekly link roundup).
  • Link to these three sites from your own website.
  • If you know any ex/post/borderland/etc. Mormon blogs that aren’t in Outer Blogness, please tell me about them and/or have them contact me so that I can include them.
  • If you have skills that would help various authors (editing, production and cover art, tech expertise in creating e-books or video trailers, etc.), please tell me and allow me to connect you with people who would appreciate your help.
  • If you have any contacts in the book distribution industry who would be interested in looking over the MAA catalog, please introduce them to MAA Books! Note that I can help get copies to sell on consignment and/or negotiate deals for shelf placement.

If you have written a book:

Contact me, obviously. 😉

Ideally, it would be great if you’d contact me before your book is set in stone. I can connect you with friends who will give you free feedback and/or refer you to professional (paid) editors. Note: I do not get any commission on this — it’s for your sake, to help your book be the best it can be! Well, OK, also to maintain the good reputation of MAA Books. 😉

Let’s share this adventure!

Reclaiming our stories, redux!

Remember my discussion on reclaiming our stories? About how we should take every opportunity to tell our own experiences, instead of standing by and letting the church invent the “apostate” narrative, according to its own agenda…?

Well there are some natural conflicts when it comes to being sure that your group is portrayed fairly and accurately. The biggest one is that stories have lots of people in them. And while you’re in righteous pursuit of portraying your own group right, you may simultaneously be portraying someone else unfairly.

I just heard that LDS playwright Mahonri Stewart wrote a new play, set in modern times, about a conflict between a Mormon family and an atheist. From a quick perusal of some posts about the play, I gather that the atheist is the villain ([the actress playing the atheist] “was forced to make a character who does some pretty mean-spirited things seem socially acceptable and even occasionally endearing”).

Now, this is par for the course, and I wouldn’t expect any different from a faithful Mormon playwright writing a faith-promoting Mormon play. I mean, it’d be cool if a faithful Mormon would write a play featuring an atheist who’s a friendly, laid-back, mild-mannered mom like me — but it ain’t gonna happen, so c’est la vie.

The thing about Mahonri Stewart, however, is that he’s one of the most outspoken people in the “only faithful Mormons should be writing about Mormons” camp. He’s especially prolific in complaining about “Angels in America”:

Angels In America is a political piece set in the 80s attacking Reagan-style conservatism and the religious right. It tries to raise awareness of the plight of the homosexual, especially in reference to AIDS. And it often uses Mormon characters as straw men to knock down so that it can raise up the standard of its cause.

very few of the Mormon characters actually seem, well, Mormon. Even accounting for the fact that Mormons come from many different backgrounds and have struggles and vices just like any other person, there is something “off” about Kushner’s portrayal of Mormonism through characters like Joe and Harper Pitt.

I have personally experienced a double standard in this regard, where tolerance was only preached, but not practiced by certain “progressive” individuals when it came to views or lifestyles that opposed their own.

Whether or not you agree with his assessment of “Angels in America” (or of “The Book of Mormon” (the musical)), he’s right that it’s reasonable to expect a fair portrait.

Given these statements of principle, I would expect that — to show people how it’s done — in his own work he’ll be doubly careful about this point, right? I certainly wouldn’t expect to see a “double standard in this regard” where “when it came to views or lifestyles that opposed [his] own” he would use those “characters as straw men to knock down so that it can raise up the standard of its cause.” Right?

So let’s see if he holds himself up to this high standard in his portrait of an atheist:

Opinions?

So far I’ve only watched up to the part where the atheist badgers the Mormon girl into explaining about her visions (as a set-up so she can tell the Mormon how she thinks visions are a bunch of hooey), and then she explains how she decided not to believe in God because God is unfair to her gay friend who loved Jesus so much. Mmmmmkaaaaaaayyyy…..

Two Short Reads That Are Packed With Information

Need a good summer read? I picked up a couple at the Sunstone Conference that are both timely and on topic for the broader LDS Community. Here’s what I wrote about them on Amazon:

Could I Vote For A Mormon For President?An Election-Year Guide to Mitt Romney’s Religion

Ryan T. Cragunand Rick Phillips

Wallace Stegner wrote, “It is almost impossible to write fiction about the Mormons, for the reasons that Mormon institutions and Mormon society are so peculiar that they call for constant explanation”

As a writer and former member of the LDS Church, I understand Stegner’s dilemma. In spite of their existence for over 150 years, the Mormons remain a mystery to many. Nevertheless, America is poised to elect one as its president. That is why “Could I Vote For A Mormon For President?” by Ryan T. Cragun and Rick Phillips is such an invaluable work.

Written with wit and clarity, this short and timely book covers all of the basics. The authors who are both professors of sociology and former Mormons tackle topics such as polygamy, the Mormon temple ceremony, whether or not the Mormons are Christians, the Mormon view of the afterlife, and the church’s stand on feminism, homosexuality, and race relations.

Cragun and Phillips’ observations are direct, at times humorous, and fair to both Mormons and their critics.

For example, on the topic of polygamy: “There’s really no other way to say it: Joseph Smith was a horny guy.”

On whether or not the Mormon underwear is weird: “We don’t think so. From an anthropological perspective, many religions prescribe ritual or symbolic clothing for their members.”

On the church’s view of women: “…men are the ultimate authority in Mormon families, and that’s the way God wants it. Men might be enjoined to be benevolent rulers of the household, but they rule nonetheless.”

On LDS approved sexuality: “No premarital hanky-panky and no masturbation of any kind is ever allowed. The church does not recognize the validity of gay marriage…hence gay people cannot have orgasms…(unless a sham-marriage spouse somehow manages to get them off).”

In the end, the authors portray the Mormon Church as an unusual, authoritarian, and staunchly conservative institution that is ideologically aligned with the right wing of the Republican Party. Could you vote for a Mormon for president? Read this book and draw your own conclusion.

The Collapse of Belief:What To Do When Your World Comes Crashing Down

Kurt Hanks and Barbara Hanks

This slim and efficient volume is a must read for anybody who has let go of a cherished relationship. Using interesting analogies and clever illustrations, the authors effectively explain the thought processes involved in going from believer to non-believer. With a slight emphasis on the loss of religious belief, the book also addresses other types of loss, such as death and divorce, as well as the trauma that comes from giving up unhealthy work environments, toxic relationships, and faulty assumptions or “world views.” It is hard to imagine that there is anyone who would not benefit from this readable and engaging work. It is especially relevant today in our polarized, religiously-infused political climate. I highly recommend this book.

–Don’t let the brevity of my review ofThe Collapse of Beliefdissuade you. It’s a great read, and the illustrations alone are worth the cover price.

They’re both great reads. Enjoy!

Sunstone and Mormon Alumni Association Books!!

As you may know, the 2012 SLC Sunstone Preliminary Program is online — and I’d like you to especially feast your eyes on page 37!!!

Mormon Alumni Association Books

As you can see, I’m planning to test out a little cooperative book distribution network for the books I’ve discussed on this site. I’m also planning to add a book page (to replace the “reading” section of our sidebar) in order to highlight more LDS-interest books that deserve more attention than they’re getting.

If you have written a book that you think should be on this ad — don’t worry! This is basically an initial experiment, and if it goes well, we’ll expand.

Also note: Since I live in Switzerland, if you live in North America, the symposium might be my only opportunity to meet you in person. I hope our recent preview discussion whets your appetite to attend!! 😀

Orson Scott Card – Fallen Author

There was a time when I couldn’t get enough of Orson Scott Card’s writing. I read “Ender’s Game” in middle school and loved it, and read it a few more times as a teen and was fascinated by the things I’d missed the first time around. It was a masterpiece. I especially used to like his short fiction: it was raw and rough hard sci-fi. He had a talent for capturing the darkest elements of human nature and the struggle we each must personally make against them.

Through the years, though, I found I tired of Card. His new books were increasingly bland, predictable, andrepetitive. I eventually gave up entirely, since if I really wanted cheap pulp-fiction sci-fi, I could find better examples elsewhere.

Fast-forward a few years. I learn that Card is involved with the National Organization for Marriage, an organization I have never liked much because of its dishonest anti-gay rhetoric. Even before I lost all faith in the LDS church, I always had issues with the church’s political stance on gay marriage… I was okay with religious organizations dictating moral standards for their members, but for society as a whole…?

More recently, I had the misfortune of happening across this little bowl of tripe. Card’s essay about “the hypocrites of homosexuality” is nothing we haven’t all heard before. My main objections to his reasoning are his insistence that the laws of god as purveyed by the “prophets” is unchanging (when LDS church dogma has in fact evolved rapidly for the last couple of centuries), his “I’m the victim here” condemnation of his own critics, and his sleight-of-hand transition from condemning the idea that the church should accept homosexuality to condemnation of all legal recognition of rights for gays.

The first is self-explanatory: sure, the will of the prophets can’t be contradicted, except when later prophets overturn “God’s word” entirely. To suggest that the church never changes its mind in response to the moral progress of society as a whole is to ignore entirely the church’s historical stance on race, gender, and sexual orientation. Or should we still kill anyone who marries across ethnic boundaries?

Card’s defiantdefenseagainst his “satanic” critics is laughable. At the end of the article, he notes that just as he predicted, he had been unfairly labeled for his upright and honest writing as “homophobic” and other related terms. While it is true that Card never directly advocates violence or hatred toward gays, he consistently refers to their feelings in a way thatdismissesthem as selfish or unnatural. He even advocates kindness toward individuals, but outright animosity toward gays as a group. Poor Orson! How dare those mean old gays and their brainwashed friends attack him for his honest portrayal of their sinful lifestyle?

Finally, Card pulls a funny little trick when hetransitionswithout warning from defending a church’s right not to condone homosexual behavior (which I grudgingly accept) to insisting that government ought to condemn the same. He makes the argument that government ought to defend its citizens against such offenses as murder, and the same goes for gay marriage! I think the difference is obvious, but if it isn’t, I’ll point out that gay marriage does not hurt those who don’t approve of it as long as they don’t engage in it. You can babble all you want about churches losing their tax-exempt status if they refuse to perform such nuptials and such, but frankly I am an advocate of removing tax-exempt status for churches entirely (treat them like non-profits or something for all I care, it’s just silly to give them specialprivilegesjust because they have “church” in their names). The bottom line? The LDS church need never condone gay marriage as far as I am concerned, but has no right acting as a political entity trying to ban the same at a state of federal level. The individuals in the church are free to vote as theirconsciencedictates, of course, and if they choose to vote for intolerance, that is their decision. That’s what we have courts for — to prevent the “moral” majority from needlesslyoppressingminorities.

How did Card go from the masterpiece of Ender’s Game to the pile of steaming poo that constitutes this essay? I wish I knew… How do authors so fall from grace?
One theory (purely speculative) springs to mind. I remember my father telling my young self that he suspected Card of having strong homosexual feelings himself, and of struggling with said feelings because of his LDS faith. This was simply based on my father’s assessment of Card’s writings.
If this was true, it all begins to make sense. Card’s lifelong struggle and self-hatred due to his hidden homosexual tendencies have finally manifested themselves in his old age as hatred toward all thing to do with homosexuality. We all attack most vehemently what we hate most about ourselves. In addition, he seeks to “redeem” himself from his earlier, darker (and brilliant) writings by writingincreasingly-conformist books filled with more and more tiresome apologetic viewpoints designed to ameliorate his inner Brigham Young. The tortured young author has become the self-righteous old puppet of his religion’s ideology. And now he rides on the wave of fame (and maybe shame?) of his earlier self in order todisseminatehis uncreative ideas about how other people’s sexuality should be treated.

Mourn with me a moment, brothers and sisters, for the passing of a great author, not into a noble death, but into shameful triviality.

Cross-posted from my blog No Answers.

Interesting Jewish/Mormon story in the New Yorker!

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you guys how much the Mormons love to compare themselves with the Jews (or, if you do need a hint, read this post). This comparison is usually kind of one-sided — Mormons love to contemplate the parallels, and the Jews are (usually) blissfully unaware of their Utah-based secret admirers. Until now.

Nathan Englander’s story What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank is far more about Jews than it is about Mormons. However, his discussion of Mormonism is so exactly what the Mormons would like the Jews to be saying about them that I had to google the author to check whether he was really Jewish and not Mormon. For example, in the story, a secular Jew complains about how disrespectful it is when the Mormons perform baptisms for the dead on behalf of Holocaust victims, but the faithful religious Jew blows it off as a trivial concern. Also, they can relate on the basis of religious-based dietary restrictions:

“I’ll tell you,” Mark says. “That’s got to be the No. 1 most annoying thing about being Hasidic in the outside world. Worse than the rude stuff that gets said is the constant policing by civilians. Everywhere we go, people are checking on us. Ready to make some sort of liturgical citizen’s arrest.”

“Strangers!” Shoshana says. “Just the other day, on the way in from the airport. Yuri pulled into a McDonald’s to pee, and some guy in a trucker hat came up to him as he went in and said, ‘You allowed to go in there, brother?’ Just like that.”

“Not true!” Deb says.

“It’s not that I don’t see the fun in that,” Mark says. “The allure. You know, we’ve got Mormons in Jerusalem. They’ve got a base there. A seminary. The rule is — the deal with the government — they can have their place, but they can’t to outreach. No proselytizing. Anyway, I do some business with one of their guys.”

“From Utah?” Deb says.

“From Idaho. His name is Jebediah, for real — do you believe it?”

“No, Yerucham and Shoshana,” I say. “Jebediah is a very strange name.” Mark rolls his eyes at that, handing me what’s left of the joint. Without even asking, he gets up and gets the tin and reaches into his wife’s purse for another tampon. And I’m a little less comfortable with this than with the white bread, with a guest coming into the house and smoking up all our son’s pot. Deb must be thinking something similar, as she says, “After this story, I’m going to text Trev and make sure he’s not coming back anytime soon.”

“So when Jeb’s at our house,” Mark says, “when he comes by to eat and pours himself a Coke, I do the same religious-police thing. I can’t resist. I say, ‘Hey, Jeb, you allowed to have that?’ People don’t mind breaking their own rules, but they’re real strict about someone else’s.”

“So are they allowed to have Coke?” Deb says.

“I don’t know,” Mark says. “All Jeb ever says back is ‘You’re thinking of coffee, and mind your own business, either way.'”

A bigger compliment comes later in the story when (as the title suggests) they talk about Anne Frank, and speculate that — in the event of another holocaust — Jeb the Mormon friend would definitely risk his own safety to hide their family.

The part that really jumped out as echoing our own discussions of “Is it a religion or a culture??” was this:

“There is such a thing as Jewish culture. One can live a culturally rich life.”

“Not if it’s supposed to be a Jewish life. Judaism is a religion. And with religion comes ritual. Culture is nothing. Culture is some construction of the modern world. It is not fixed; it is ever changing, and a weak way to bind generations. It’s like taking two pieces of metal, and instead of making a nice weld you hold them together with glue.”

It’s interesting because I could swear I’ve heard an argument like this from the Mormon side, but the Jews were the ones who (supposedly) were supposed to be a culture and an ethnicity in addition to a religion… What do you think?

A road-trip out of crazy: “Hippie Boy,” by Ingrid Ricks

Dad was a master salesman who could talk anyone into anything, and life on the road with him was the wildest adventure any kid could possibly imagine. Unfortunately, since he was often unreliable and occasionally violent, it wasn’t always the good kind of adventure — but it was a great escape from a home run by a crazy (and also occasionally violent) control-freak of a step-dad, who reeked of the meat that made up his entire food pyramid. That’s the world of teenaged Ingrid Ricks in the story Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story.

The fact that her family is Mormon is important for the story, yet Ricks does an exceptional job of keeping Mormonism as the background setting instead of focusing the camera on Mormonism itself. It shouldn’t be exceptional, but when the events of a story rely heavily on things that are peculiar to Mormonism, there’s a great temptation for the author to put his/her arm around the reader’s shoulder and say, “Let me tell you what Mormonism is like…” Or to write a story that is self-consciously dripping with Mormonisms. Ricks succeeds at making the Mormon themes clear without shoving Mormonism in your face.

The most Mormon-specific aspect of the story is the mother’s fervent belief that she needs to rely on priesthood authorities to make her most important life decisions for her. No matter how much bad advice she gets (and acts on), she has a terrible time letting go of the belief that the advice must a priori be good advice that comes from God. This point reminded me quite a bit of Emily Pearson’s story Dancing with Crazy. But one interesting part of Ingrid Ricks’ story is that you see that the priesthood leaders’ advice isn’t always bad. Ingrid’s mom makes some harmful decisions — based on massively bad advice from the first bishop in the story — but the second bishop helps solve their problems (with the assistance of Ingrid’s older sister Connie, who engineers the flow of good advice). The second bishop also gives good advice to Ingrid, and the cool part is seeing her learn to analyze that advice herself, and decide what is the best course of action for herself and her family.

This is one of the most successful bildungsromans I’ve ever read. It’s clear to the reader from the beginning that the family has some pretty dysfunctional parenting. But it’s also clear that the young Ingrid views her parents with the eyes of a child who has never known anything else. Her (often absent) father, in particular, is a larger-than-life figure for her. Through the course of the story, she learns to see both of her parents in a more realistic light — as people who actually weren’t doing too badly, considering the major demons they were battling themselves. And it’s inspiring to see Ingrid and Connie take charge of their own lives (even as teens) and grow up healthy and sane, climbing the obstacles strewn in their path. I hate to use a clich like “triumph of the human spirit,” but at least I’ll say it kind of reminded me of this Suzanne Vega poem:

Kids will grow like weeds on a fence
She says they look for the light they try to make sense.
They come up through the cracks
Like grass on the tracks

If you’re looking for an entertaining adventure that’s more than just fluff, pick up a copy of Hippie Boy!!