The Book of Mormon Girl–the First 2 Chapters

I was lucky enough to get to spend some time with Joanna Brooks last Thursday. I photographed her with her book, and she kindly gave me a signed copy that was completely unexpected and sincerely sweet of her. She is just a good person. She is a smart person. She is a person that knows what to say and how to make people feel understood.
Since I have not actively participated in the Mormon church for the last little while (besides haphazard blogging with the Exponent), I had sort of forgotten that the world sees Mormons as a peculiar people. Most of those “peculiar” behaviors are no longer part of my life, but some of them are and always will be. However, with the past election, I was reminded of all the ways that “outsiders” look at my family and see their “peculiar” behavior. I vacillate between agreeing with the world (it’s just green tea people!), and wanting to explain some things more clearly when the world gets it wrong (no, there is no practice of polygamy in the church today).
I snuggled down this week to start reading the memoir. In the past year, I’ve only read one other book dealing with Mormonism and that was Elna Baker’s The New York Regional Singles Mormon Halloween Dance. After reading that, I had to call my good friend and have a long, frustrated, sad cry. I identified with the Elna’s story so exactly that it caused me to feel such loss and such remorse over distancing myself from my Mormon-ness and also extreme frustration that I was still awkward and unknowingly unsure about how to participate in the regular world outside of Mormon identification. I felt, quite honestly, that it would have either been easier to stay (which it most certainly would have been). I questioned why I put myself and my family and my friends through my disassociation and extreme doubt and rabid vocalization of my dissatisfaction. But that’s the thing with dissatisfaction, it’s hard to keep it quiet.
The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American FaithIn enters The Book of Mormon Girl. I sat down on Friday and read three pages. Those pages, so beautiflly and poetically and precisely written to paint the life of a Mormon girl. Those pages that will mean completely different things to Mormon people than they will to non-Mormons. Those pages that evoke smells and sounds and memories of a good life, of the beautiful traditions, and the wholesome goodness that defined my childhood.
I shut the book.  I was not sure I could go there again. Not sure I wanted to bring up the feelings of loneliness and unbelonging that come when I see my happy Mormon friends attending their church meetings. The feelings of being misunderstood, or being perceived as a sinner or lazy. The feelings that come up, and that I must process and address so that I can keep living an authentic life.
Saturday night I worked through another chapter, and I mourned not feeling a part of the only community I have ever really known. I thought I had processed through these emotions, but that is the funny thing, your childhood never goes away. Even if I thought I had put enough distance between who I am now and who I was as a Mormon–I’m not sure it will ever go away.
I shut the book.  I was feeling uncomfortable. I was imagining the life I could have had as a Mormon. The life I had always imagined having, which looks nothing like the fabulous life I am living now.

Sunday morning, I opened it again and kept on going. Through Joanna’s descriptions of her childhood, I returned to my childhood. I felt the love of my grandmother as we would sit on a church pew together. I remembered the special day that my father baptized me and gave me the gift of the Holy Ghost through a special blessing. I remembered feeling so wanted and loved by a kind Heavenly Father. I remembered when Jesus was a pivotal person in my life. I remember wearing plaid jumpers and having no bigger desires then to live a life pleasing to God. I remember a time when I never, never let a curse word pass my lips (hard to believe!)It was like all the perfect and happy and warm and comforting moments of being Mormon flashed through my head in little vignettes painting in pinks and golds. With all the good memories, it gets easy to forget the bad ones, the ugly ones. I wanted to make excuses for all the hurt and pain that I suffered and that millions of women and men of all colors suffered. It made me want to forget that I care about gay marriage and equal rights and patriarchy, and personal freedom and a choice over my body. It made me go deep into my heart space to ask myself if I should be Mormon again (I still check in about once a year).

Tomorrow. I’ll tackle chapter 3.

I'm an artist, writer, photographer, feminist, listener, lover, and a fighter. I believe that travel is fatal to prejudice, that skies are meant to be blue, and that the world is full of endless possibilities.


  1. I read the same first book, and shed some of the same tears. (As well as possibly some of the same laughs.) I also happened to meet Elna Baker, on Halloween, in New York at a dance (though an apartment rather than a church) the very year her book came out, and am friends with her younger sister.

    Elna’s book was really important for me to read at that time, partially because she admitted a lot of things that I felt, but didn’t know how to admit, or who I could tell. In some ways she told my truth for me.

    I have read all but the last two chapters of Joanna’s book (school caught up with me, and hasn’t let me go). I sobbed and sobbed through whole paragraphs and pages. A scene with her grandmother and burial clothes was particularly rending and/or moving to me, because I had just dressed my granny a few months before.

    I have read a book too, that took me days to read, because of its force and its power to make me cry. For me it was Dostoevsky’s ‘White Nights.’ Joanna’s affected me, but in a different way. I felt less alone. Again. And again. Like there are other Mormons like me, who are as messy as the Church.

  2. It sounds like this has been an emotional and deep experience. Thank you for taking the time to relive and share your experience here, D’Arcy.

    I think it’s so exciting that we can read books like Book of Mormon Girl where someone is living that peculiar culture we know so well. Like Rachel, I have had books by people who don’t share my background (race, culture, gender, etc) that have affected me profoundly. But, there’s something about seeing someone tell a story (like Joanna’s) similar to mine that has affected and engaged me in a way I didn’t expect.

  3. I identified with Elna’s story so exactly that it caused me to feel such loss and such remorse over distancing myself from my Mormon-ness and also extreme frustration that I was still awkward and unknowingly unsure about how to participate in the regular world outside of Mormon identification. I felt, quite honestly, that it would have either been easier to stay (which it most certainly would have been).

    I could have written this. Thank you, Stella.

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