Kirkus Reviews QR Code


A Memoir of an American Faith

by Joanna Brooks

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-9968-5
Publisher: Free Press

A scholar of religion and culture struggles to integrate her strong religious beliefs with a deepening awareness of social injustice.

Brooks (American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures, 2003, etc.) evokes the close-knit joys and apocalyptic fears of growing up within the Mormon Church during the 1970s and ’80s, a time many Mormons believed to be the prophesied “latter days.” Living in California, far from the welcoming environs of Utah, she endured snickers about sacred undergarments and angels from other planets, agonized over drinking Sprite while the other children drank Coca-Cola, and cringed through a humiliating anti-Mormon comedy routine at a friend’s evangelical megachurch. While the author also emphasizes the positive aspects of Mormonism, especially the industrious goodwill fostered by a long line of pioneer ancestors, she excels at portraying the complexities of doubt in the midst of faith. In one powerful chapter, she recounts how she confessed to her bishop, per church doctrine, that she had had a premarital sexual experience; the bishop responded with a parable about a school-bus driver who was able to avert disaster by putting on the brakes before hitting a train. Feeling empty and patronized, she experienced disillusionment with the traditional Mormon view of sexuality but found refuge in the teachings of feminist professors at Brigham Young University. In the early ’90s, however, the church began a crackdown on dissidents, and several of these professors resigned; Brooks returned her BYU diploma in protest. She describes the decade after graduation as a time of exile when she felt estranged from her faith yet also worked toward a doctorate degree, married a Jewish man, and gave birth to two daughters. Eventually making her way back to the church on her own terms, she declares herself “an unorthodox Mormon woman with a fierce and hungry faith.”

This well-crafted examination of spiritual longing shows how one woman has carved out a niche inside the religion she loves despite its contradictions.