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!!