Heather's Reviews > The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith

The Book of Mormon Girl by Joanna Brooks
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Apr 20, 13

bookshelves: lds, non-fiction, book-club-2013-reading-list
Read from May 07, 2012 to April 19, 2013 — I own a copy

I have heard Joanna on the radio, and I think she's articulate and thoughtful. I instantly liked her. I agree with her on many issues. When I heard about her book I knew I wanted to read it. I thought, "finally, a well-spoken Mormon woman who thinks like me and doesn't resent the church." I was a little disappointed when reading this book because although she says she loves the Mormon faith, she still has that ever-so-slight tone of displeasure and mocking. Her memoir describes how she struggles to reconcile her faith with her personal politics. And like most other progressive thinkers, she would like the church to change to fit her attitudes rather than the other way around. I don't want to undermine all of her book, because I still agree with her on a lot of points. And I have to give her credit for wanting to find a way to make it all work for her rather than just abandoning her faith.

The main reason I read this book was to try to find some consolation about my own experience at BYU in the early 1990s. Like Joanna, I witnessed the firing of many of my most beloved professors over heated intellectual freedom battles. These scholars studied feminist theory and found it compatible with Mormon theology. They taught it in their classrooms, and it caught on like wildfire (BYU was decades behind the rest of the country when it comes to feminism). The university administration (i.e. church leadership--they are one in the same at BYU) felt this posed a threat, and began closely scrutinizing these teachers. Eventually, they were either fired or left the university on their own accord. So what does a faithful Mormon girl do when she witnesses this treatment within her own church institutions? If you’re Joanna Brooks, you return your diploma. I responded differently, but was upset by it all the same. I was hoping to read more about why she was drawn to these professors and how they inspired her, as they did me. Sadly, I only came away with more negativity about the whole affair rather than finding any kind of attempt at reconciliation.

Joanna's writings lament how she loves her Mormon faith, but feels exiled because of the church's treatment of gays and feminists. She states she can't be fully active because has witnessed too many things done by "her people" that she doesn't agree with. There are beautiful passages about the fiery faith of her Mormon pioneer foremothers. However, the majority of this book contains anecdotal stories about growing up Mormon in California and how different she was from everyone around her, not so much about the doctrinal foundations of her faith. Joanna does a good job of pointing out just how "peculiar" Mormons can be...to the point that I thought most of her family and leaders sounded like zealots. While I had some similar experiences growing up outside of Utah, Joanna had some very different indoctrination than I did. While she is respectful of sacred LDS practices, some things she says "we were taught" were not doctrinally sound and downright weird. If I had read this book as a non-Mormon, I would think the church was full of whack-os.

The book covers quite a bit of ground--everything from Marie Osmond's Guide to Beauty, Health and Style (a whole chapter, yawn…overkill) to food storage to California’s Prop 8. I think with some good editing this book could have been more powerful. While I respect the fact that this is Joanna’s story and her experience as an LDS girl/woman, it is not mine. Not a bad read, it just didn’t speak to me as a “straight Mormon feminist” (Joanna’s description of herself).
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