Review: The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith by Joanna Brooks

The Book of Mormon Girl is a new and originally composed memoir by Mormon feminist Joanna Brooks that serves as both a coming-of-age story and a commentary on the trials and triumphs of life as a Mormon. Joanna, a Mormon girl raised in Orange County, California, documents in her memoir the dedication she feels toward her religion as well as her eventual departure from its orthodoxy in her pursuit of the feminist movement. The result is a ground-breaking, honest and deeply poignant look at a misunderstood religion through one woman’s refreshingly open perspective.

Joanna’s memoir is a genuinely thought-provoking book on many levels: for me, as a girl who grew up with no knowledge of the inner-workings of the Mormon faith, it offered stimulating insights that afforded me an opportunity to be a fly on the wall of a young American girl’s life, so vastly different from anything I’ve ever known. And it also allowed me to strengthen my own ideals through Joanna’s narrative, her feminist musings and empowering prayers for peace among all races and religions. There’s a very powerful message in her story, and one that doesn’t require a commitment to a religion – any religion – in order to benefit from it. The Book of Mormon Girl begins with stories from Joanna’s childhood, from performing with other Mormon girls in the Rose Bowl Parade to the apparent battle between Mormons and born-again Christians; seeing that world through her decidedly Mormon child eyes showed me exactly how much her religion meant to her at such an early age. Joanna then moves on in her stories to document the college years at Brigham Young University that shaped her, though in a way that perhaps she never anticipated they would. She illustrates the Mormon feminist movement through the actions of her mentors and their subsequent excommunications in the 1990s, when the Mormon Church stood in public opposition of feminists, intellectuals, and the LGBT community. Joanna’s desire to pursue the feminist movement and stand for the rights of others combat her lifelong dedication to her Church, and in this struggle she determines that there is a place for her, a place where she can love and worship the God she was raised to believe in while supporting the independent rights of others; even if she has to carve that place out for herself.

I was moved and greatly captivated by the latter chapters of The Book of Mormon Girl when Joanna moved from her observations on childhood in the religion to topics such as the anguish of California’s Proposition 8 against gay marriage. Joanna glides her stories along on poetic, strongly intelligent prose that engages the reader, empowers them in a whimsical way all the while strengthening their understanding toward a vastly misunderstood religion. Her unorthodox perspective undoubtedly allows for a companionable furrowing of the brown on certain topics – polygamy among them – but Joanna doesn’t simply shake her head and shrug her shoulders: she welcomes the reader into her mind and puts forth her thoughts, her painful struggle to face the controversies of her dear Mormonism and do with them whatever she deems right. In such a way she creates a bridge for everyone – man or woman, gay or straight, Mormon, Jewish, Born-Again – to relate to another person’s struggles and rejoice in the overcoming of them. I think the greatest thing required to open the door for The Book of Mormon Girl and Joanna Brooks’s magic is the willingness to learn something new, and the courage to take Joanna’s lessons and make them your own.

Title: The Book of Mormon Girl Author: Joanna Brooks Genre: Memoir Publisher: Free Press Format: Paperback Source: August 7, 2012 Provided by: Free Press (C/O) Buy the book: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Better World Books Connect with the author: website | blog | Facebook | Twitter

The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith