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.