cover image The Book of Mormon Girl: 
A Memoir of an American Faith

The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith

Joanna Brooks. Free Press, $26 (220p) ISBN 978-1-4516-9968-5

In this enchanting memoir, Brooks, a San Diego religion scholar (American Lazarus), portrays her pious Mormon upbringing in Southern California as both deeply grounding and later stiflingly sexist and politically wrongheaded. The descendant of Mormon “pioneers” who trekked out to Utah to establish their community of separatist believers, and raised among her large family in Orange County, Brooks re-creates with enormous feeling the sense of belonging inculcated by the community of kindly, well-intentioned Latter Day Saints who practiced strict rules about Bible study, baptism at age eight, reading the Book of Mormon, tithing, and keeping pure of mind and body. she and her sister Mormons, vilified by outsiders as a polygamous cult, felt strengthened by their “sparkling difference” from other people, such as in preparing for the end of the world, learning beauty lessons from Marie Osmond, and gaining insights into women’s roles from the church sisters while camping at age 15—all of which Brooks treats in charming, discrete short story–like chapters. Yet while studying at Brigham Young University, Brooks grew alarmed at patronizing attitudes by male leaders, scandals regarding surveillance files kept by the authorities, and excommunication of feminist critics. Brooks chronicles her painful years of “exile” from her faith and marriage to a Jewish man, culminating in her political opposition to the Mormons’ concerted 2008 effort to keep gay marriage illegal in California. Throughout this heartfelt work she remains braced and true to herself. (Aug.)