Incidentally Mormon

I just finished reading a book called Zippedby Laura and Tom McNeal, it was pretty good, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for fairly lightweight teen fiction, but that’s not the point.  (If that were all it was, I wouldn’t bother mentioning it.)  The reason that I bring it up is that there’s a Mormon character in the book.  It’s not LDS fiction, it’s set in New England somewhere (I imagine that it said specifically but it wasn’t crucial enough for me to retain) not Utah, and it’s just this one girl and her mother that are Mormon. 

And as soon it was mentioned that she was Mormon I was on alert.

Was this going to be anti?  Was she going to leave the church and realize that she had been brainwashed? (I have other objections to the whole “brainwashed” designation but that’s something for another post.)  Was she going to be some sort of wooden characeture rather than a fleshed out person?  Or some kind of holier than thou, miss priss?

And she was none of those things.  She was a real girl who liked and apparently believed in her religion.  She was slightly conflicted but she was a teenaged girl, as teenagers weren’t we all at least slightly conflicted?(Aren’t we still?)  She had a crush on a missionary, he had a crush on her, they chatted, even acknowledged the crush, she made him a plate of cookies, they even were as daring as to hug once.  It’s not the kind of behavior that is recommended in the mission handbook but it’s not going to get anyone ex-communicated either.  They wouldn’t even send him home for that.  (Transferred sure, but not sent home.)  And they didn’t.

The girl wasn’t the main character of the book, she was the girl that the main character liked.  So even the thing with the missionary was really just to add a little conflict.  End of story.  She didn’t leave the church, she didn’t even have a big crisis of faith.  She was just a girl.

I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve run into that in fiction, and the more I think about that the weirder it is.  I mean, there’s a lot of us, we’re all over the place.  You expect that in Utah of course.  I can’t imagine that anyone would write a book set in Utah in which there were not Mormon characters (but then I’ ve never read a book set in Utah that wasn’t Mormon fiction) but it’s not like there are only Mormons in Utah.  I grew up in Virginia.  I was one of maybe 20 Mormons in my high school, not an overwhelming majority by any stretch but I think it’s safe to say that everyone in the school knew a Mormon.  Probably most of the kids in the school would have counted at least one of us Mormons as a friend.  We were characters in their lives who just happened to be Mormon, not necessarily good, not necessarily bad.  We may have been having big religious crises but for the most part probably not, we were just going about our lives.

I don’t see that in the books that I read.

It turns out that at least one of the authors is probably Mormon.  She graduated from BYU anyway, I haven’t looked up her church records or anything so I’m just extrapolating here but it seems a reasonable assumption.  It’s harder to tell but my gut feeling is that her husband, the other author, is not.  (The girl’s father is not Mormon, and … I don’t know something about it just makes me think that that part is somewhat autobiographical.) But I digress.

The point is that it’s a little sad to me that as soon as I run across a character who is Mormon, I’m immediately afraid that somehow the book is going to say something negative about the church.  I was surprised and, I have to say, delighted, to read a book with a character who was just incidentally Mormon.

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kristina
    May 22, 2009 @ 11:06:14

    Very interesting. You’re right in that Mormons aren’t generally characters at all, unless they are mocked or written in by an LDS author.

  2. julie
    May 22, 2009 @ 11:15:46

    I’ll have to check out that book. Shannon hale new book the actor and the housewife …I think has a mormon character too. Its going in the chick lit or fiction area..

  3. Melanie J
    May 22, 2009 @ 11:39:55

    I just had a similar experience with our book club’s pick last month, Molokai. The author references Mormons and we all had our antennae up but it was totally incidental and all positive. When we had him call into our group on the nigh tof the discussion about it, we even asked him a few questions about his research and portrayal of Mormons. He said that his research had showed that most of the Protestant/Catholic missionaries who came to the leper colony on Molokai always tried to stamp out the native culture. The Mormons seemed to encourage it and he thought it was cool that they were noted for their love of music and dancing. It was just an interesting sidenote in a story from a non-Mormon.

  4. E
    May 22, 2009 @ 14:41:12

    The Richard Paul Evans book I just read is set in Utah but the characters aren’t Mormon and the the church isn’t even mentioned. That was just silly, I thought.

  5. Annette
    May 22, 2009 @ 15:19:40

    It’s definitely rare, but happening more often. I was pleasantly pleased with AE Cannon’s YA “Charlotte’s Rose” a few years back (a nationally published title about a young girl in a handcart company of all things!) and Dean Hughes and a few others have managed it. I hope the trend continues, because you’re right–the majority of the time, we’re not portrayed as normal people.

  6. Jen
    May 22, 2009 @ 20:12:55

    My favorite are when they throw mormons into cheesy “B” movies aired on late night television. You’d think they’d get it that we’re actually fairly normal people, but somehow it’s more exciting to make us weirdos. Go figure.

  7. Melissa Bastow
    May 23, 2009 @ 00:32:24

    No horns or anything huh? I think I might just read that book now – it sounds so refreshing.

  8. madhousewife
    May 23, 2009 @ 11:38:07

    I read a short story by Ann Beattie that had a character who was incidentally Mormon. But he was also just incidentally in the story, too.

  9. m&m
    May 25, 2009 @ 14:53:22

    Thanks for this review.

  10. cheryl
    May 26, 2009 @ 10:20:59

    E–
    I thought about Richard Paul Evan’s books when I read this post, too. In fact, many of his books are like that. And I think it’s just dumb, too. I mean, I have NEVER read a book that was located in the South that didn’t mention religion. It’s just how it is, you know? So, why not mention the Mormons in Utah? Everybody knows we’re here. It’s not like some big secret or taboo to talk about Mormons. Blah.

    Glad to hear the book was positive about Mormons for once, though. I think we get all nervous because the good stuff is very few and very limited. Nice to know people are starting to see Mormons as normal people. Well, as normal as we can be, I guess. 😉

  11. annie valentine
    May 28, 2009 @ 13:46:13

    You know, I bet Jewish people and those of other faiths feel the same way. It’s rare that any religion is referred to in a book without some kind of author opinion in the undercurrent.

  12. luisaperkins
    Jun 06, 2009 @ 13:11:18

    Oh, this makes me so happy. One of my goals as a writer is to get more “incidental Mormon” characters out there. I’ll have to look for this book. Thanks!

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