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Elders: A Novel

3.18 of 5 stars 3.18  ·  rating details  ·  535 ratings  ·  142 reviews
A glorious debut that T.C. Boyle calls "powerful and deeply moving" that follows two young Mormon missionaries in Brazil and their tense, peculiar friendship.

Elder McLeod—outspoken, surly, a brash American—is nearing the end of his mission in Brazil. For nearly two years he has spent his days studying the Bible and the Book of Mormon, knocking on doors, teaching missionary
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 5th 2013 by Hogarth (first published January 1st 2013)
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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
The plot isn't particularly compelling. It's a lot of mission-speak and knocking on doors and arguing over church doctrine. But McIlvain writes well, and the book is interesting if you look at it from a non-fiction perspective. Elder McLeod, the doubter, is probably a pretty close match for the author, who has left the Mormon church. So it's worth reading if you want to see one ex-Mormon's take on missionary life in Brazil.

If you're a practicing Mormon and you can't resist taking a peek to see w
Jessica Woodbury
I spent most of my life in the Mormon church. I'm also a serious reader. And it's always been strange to me that these two parts of my life didn't come together. There was simply no "good" Mormon fiction. There was bad fiction by Mormons for Mormons. There were a small number of successful Mormon authors who wrote fiction that had little to do with Mormons. But it was frustrating to realize that so many people couldn't tap into life as a Mormon the way you can with a good novel.

I never served a
This podcast led me to this book:

The story itself is fairly anti-climatic and unsatisfying. A newly converted elder and a non-believer elder. As companions go, it was never going to work.

But the writing.
Oh, the writing.
And the details.

The little bits of information you get along the way. And what it means to live such an insular life. But. What if you do not believe? Where do you go? And who do you turn to? Not the president of your ward (what an airb
Isaac Bourgeois
I was excited to find this title though the author's interview published in the SL Tribune. Fiction about Mormons has little legacy to stand on, with quality production mostly in film. There has been a fair amount of good fiction written by Mormons about other topics, and a stunningly famous body of work produced by a Mormon that is absolute shit (Stephanie Meyers' oeuvre). I was excited to see where this new offering landed.

"Elders" gives a provocative (seriously, that's the best word for it)
Roger DeBlanck
Ryan McIlvain has arrived on the literary scene and he is here to stay. His debut novel, Elders, is a remarkably candid and wholehearted exploration of one young man’s spiritual crisis and another’s attempt to uphold the sanctity of Christ’s teachings. As a Mormon missionary planted in Carinha, Brazil, Elder Seth McLeod struggles to overcome the vacuous degree to which his efforts and beliefs have plummeted. His companion in proselytizing is Elder Passos, a young Brazilian who has found resolve ...more
Much of McIlvain’s Elders provides a nostalgic return for anyone who has served an LDS mission in Brazil. In many parts of his narrative, McIlvain does a good job describing the missionary-companion relationship (i.e., between Elder McLeod and Elder Passos); the missionary-investigator relationship (i.e, between the missionaries and the young couple, Josefina and Leandro); and, generally, some of the unique social-political dynamics encountered in an LDS mission. McIlvain is also effective in ca ...more
Braeden Udy
Being a former LDS missionary myself, I don't really see how someone who did not serve a mission would enjoy this book. It is drenched with Missionary culture, lingo, and anxiety. Personally, I enjoyed Elders a lot. I could relate to many of the events, and especially the wide variety of characters McIlvain creates. At first, the prose was so strange and foreign to me. By the end though, I could see the beauty of it. My biggest complaint, the source of the three star rating, is that is was just ...more
Seeing as we're going with a religious theme here, let me start with a confession: I totally judge books by their covers and Elders is a prime example. I think this cover is brilliant.

So, does the novel live up to the cover? It comes pretty close. Elders follows McLeod and Passos, a pair of Mormon missionaries in Brazil. Despite their vastly different backgrounds, the couple is bonded together as they spend their days knocking on unopened doors and hoping to reach their quietly personal goals.
missy jean
I have spent so much time thinking about the complexities of writing about insular subcultures: the tricky line between losing an out-group reader in a sea of culturally-relevant lingo, and overexplaining details to the point of tedium. I think it's such a hard line to walk without coming across as a propagandist working explicitly in favor of or against the subculture in question. To my delight, I think McIlvain mostly walks the line in this novel. He manages to honor the complex humanity of in ...more
Janet Berry-Johnson
I grew up in the LDS church, although I am no longer practicing. I heard the author on Fresh Air and was intrigued. The author did not disappoint. Not only did the plot suck me in so that I could not put the book down, but I believe he treated the faith with respect and reverence, despite not agreeing with it any longer. I may no longer agree with the teachings of the LDS church, but I do not like to see a group of people, who are just trying to do good and be the best they can be, vilified. It ...more
There were things I loved about this, the biggest of which was probably the general novelty of a novel about Mormon missionaries without the baggage of faith-promoting intensions. I love books about mormons that aren't trying to build up the reader's testimony.

Elders does really well in a small space: it's the story of a companionship and not much else. The book feels controlled and purposeful, with no extraneous details. And the characters manage to be realistically immature (they are 20 years
I won this is part of a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

I'm so glad I did.

The book is both angry and nostalgic. That's the simplest way I can describe it. The pages seem to burn with remembrance (the writer himself is a former Mormon). The characters are fully developed and yet it seemed as if they were purposefully underdeveloped at times, as if even in their thoughts they were conscious of trying to put their best self out there, even if the best self they wanted the world to see was not the tr
Meg Elison
This will be a fun nostalgic read for anyone who served a mission in the LDS church. Anyone who didn't or hasn't heard all the stories will likely be a little lost. Despite the almost endless exposition, this novel manages to remain both puzzling and frustrating. McIlvain has the literary disease, which is to say that he writes stories that trap us with uninteresting people to whom nothing happens. Even the notable occasions of action are brushed aside by a style that refuses to involve itself w ...more
Malin Friess
A bizarre ficticious book indeed that I had no intention of reading if it were not resting on the recommended section of our public library book shelf.

Elder Mcleod is nearing the end of his 2 year mission in Brazil with the Mormon Church. After two years of knocking on doors (and having many closed in his face), giving memorized speeches, and finding some relief on P-day; Elder Meclod begins to question what he is doing. Just as his skepticism grows he is joined by a new religiously ambitious Br
Mixed bag. The character development and dialogue are incredible, but the story is a real downer. I thought Elder Passos was a really interesting character. He was really strengthened and fed by his faith, but he had some personal failings that he never quite overcame. Elder McLeod was pitiable and relatable at the beginning, but he became less so as the book progressed and he started to force himself into a downward spiral. Truthfully, he never should have been out on a mission in the first pla ...more
I don't really know what to make of this book. I think it presents a somewhat accurate picture of what the missionary experience is like, I liked that it showed the struggle of knocking on doors and working to make converts. However, I was disappointed by the ending. It felt like the entire book took a turn and it just ended so randomly.
The writing style was smooth and literary. The subject matter had inherent interest. The setting was fresh.

However, there were no strong female characters (indictment of McIlvain or the LDS Church?), and the misogyny is breathtaking. More damningly, the vulgarity was not only off-putting, it added nothing of literary value and broke every rule of verisimilitude. NO WAY Mormon boys drop f*** so casually, or at all, regardless of what they do. The cultural taboo is too strong. Sweeney is the most
John Pappas
A powerful debut novel about faith, doubt and identity from a promising young author. McIlvain's eye for detail is amazingly astute and his ability to characterize the odd friendship of his two protagonists so deeply is profoundly affecting to the reader. The added political dimension, created through the use of the Mormon (a very American religion) mission to Brazil during the launch of the Iraq War and subsequent tension between the American missionary and his Brazilian friends, fellow mission ...more
reasons i'm reading this book:
1. the author went to Rutgers
2. Mormons are fascinating
Full Stop
Jun 10, 2014 Full Stop added it
Shelves: summer-2013

Review by Caitlin Greene

Ryan McIlvain’s debut work of fiction, Elders, is a “Mormon novel” in that it centers on two twenty-year-old Mormon missionaries in Brazil, a country that is home to a Mormon population in the millions. Set just before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the novel takes up themes of religious custom, dogma, and lore, but maintains an understated secular baseline. In interviews, McIlvain doesn’t hide his Mormon upbringing. But he also refuses
Donovan Richards
Shotgun Gospel

Even though I’ve grown up in the Christian faith and continue to hold to the basic tenets of its tradition, I’ve always felt a little uneasy about the Evangelical push toward proselytizing. There’s a sense in which your work holds value only as much as you are able to convert others to the faith. The gospel mandate to share the good news becomes a heavy hand of dominance over any conversation.

The people around you no longer carry importance because they are friends or colleagues; t
David Harris
This book is very well written, and I enjoyed reading it. Plus, if you've done an LDS mission, it's always interesting to hear about someone else's mission experience. (Presumably, the author went on a mission to Brazil and brought a lot of his own experiences into the story.) I thought the characters were interesting, as well.

If there's anything I disliked about the book, it's just that it was way too dark and left no possibility of any sort of positive outcome at the end. In that way, it sort
Ryan McIlvain, the author of Elders, did a great job of writing the story of two Mormon missionaries and creating enough conflict between them to make a good book. The tension between the two characters builds and builds to a level where the reader just HAS to know how it’s going to turn out. The even bigger conflict is the internal one in the mind of Elder McLeod, the American missionary. It becomes apparent to the reader that Elder McCloud is not really suited to the Mormon way of life, but he ...more
I found this book pretty fascinating. Have you ever wondered what young Mormons, or other religions where missionaries go door-to-door, think and feel and what they go through as they try to recruit converts? The main protagonists are two young men, in their early twenties, and it was very interesting to read how one never had any doubts about his faith and was able to adhere tenaciously to his faith, and, the other found himself doubting the faith and the life. Rather than there being a lot of ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.

A story of faith and doubt, a study of two young men's struggle to navigate a forced, brief, intensely personal relationship, and ultimately a look at what we think makes us good and what really shows us to be good; Elders by Ryan McIlvain is a character study, so close-up it hurts, of the dance we do as we try to navigate those around us even as they echo our own weaknesses.

Elders takes place on the dusty and seemingly silent streets of Brazil, where Mormon missionaries do th
It's ok. Too much churchy and mission-related stuff. I expected it to be more about internal struggles with spirituality.
J.A. Carter-Winward
A poignant and compelling glimpse into the lives of Mormon missionaries as told by a Brazilian national and an American missionary thrown together for the last jag of their time in the field. The book outlines in subtle detail the economics of Mormonism, even in the mission field, and what role the Mormon Church plays in third world countries as a "great white hope" to people suffering in poverty and stagnation.

The relationship between the two missionaries was fantastic--socio-economics, politi
The book title initially caught my eye. As I read the jacket summary my interest was further piqued.

After reading Elders I am not sure how it will be received by those who have limited knowledge of the LDS religion or the intricacies of mission duties/expectations. The book touches upon the workings of a mission but assumes the reader has a deeper knowledge of what is presented. I am unsure a non LDS audience will have an affinity or feel curious about this particular book knowing it is a relig
This book will remind you of nothing if not Levi Peterson's The Backslider, albeit 'Elders' is but a shadow of what Peterson accomplished. Still, I give credit to McIlvain for at least trying to write a Mormon novel that is honest and nuanced and thoughtful. We Mormons have produced so few of these! Anyway, if you want to read about a young Mormon who is trying to believe but doesn't and is dealing with his lust which he feels extremely guilty about, but in the end finds a kind of redemption, yo ...more
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