Questions of faith and family haunt a young woman fleeing from her isolated polygamist community.
In this follow-up to 2007’s Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys, Jensen follows Zina Martin, the sister of the previous novel’s protagonist. Faced at age 16 with becoming a plural wife to an older man, Zina embarks on a doomed affair that leaves her alone and pregnant. Desperate, she abandons Gabriel’s Landing, her sheltered polygamist community in Utah. In the first of many fortunate plot points, Zina is picked up by an angelic African-American couple, who take her home to Chicago and treat her like a daughter. Zina slips easily into modern life: college degree, good job, an apartment of her own. But her past and the family she left behind still plague her. At one point, she tells a friend: “I don’t have one object, not one reminder of home. Not a picture or a letter or a quilt.” Zina especially wonders about her sister Louisa, who left Gabriel’s Landing to become a doctor. Zina’s quest to reunite with Louisa eventually connects the two books, and the sisters’ struggle to reconcile the worlds of secular society, conservative polygamy, and mainstream Mormonism dominates the book’s latter half. Jensen’s nuanced consideration of that struggle is the story’s greatest strength. She refrains from easy judgments, and her ability to present the Martin sisters’ genuine love for their home alongside its real pitfalls challenges readers to embrace the full complexity of polygamist communities. The rest of the plot, though, is less subtle and at times implausible. The ending seems predestined, and the difficult aspects of Zina’s story are rendered in an oddly unemotional fashion. For example, Zina undergoes a trauma shortly after arriving in Chicago, but the author quickly abandons that painful event and leaps months into the future. Jensen explains Zina’s sudden progress in bland, matter-of-fact prose: “Zina had been in Chicago for over a year. She had moved into an apartment with other girls her age, and learned to love the city and her job.” Secondary characters come and go with similarly little fanfare, often seeming more like plot devices than vibrant individuals. Such narrative distance and too-convenient plotting keep Zina and the other characters from becoming as compelling as the book’s broader themes.
A serviceable plot and characters bolstered by unusually sophisticated thinking about polygamy and its relationship to mainstream Mormonism.