In a room overflowing with people, I was the only one; Joanna Brooks solely had words for me. Brooks read excerpts from her new memoir, The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith, as part of the Living Writers Series at San Diego State University. She shared her new memoir for one of the many appearances and events about the book. As she read, Brooks depicted in great detail her warm childhood, where growing up Mormon enriched her life and was full of incredible experiences and tons of love. In her early teens, Brooks’ struggles soon began as she felt herself questioning aspects of her faith. Most memorably, she struggled with the ways that the female body was compared to a white rose, a pearl, and a gift to hold most high for only one person. Her questions arose because of the teachings of many religions, including Mormonism, that encourage the denial of the body, creating negative views of primitive behaviors. As an adult in college, her questions became more complicated and not as easily satisfied or pushed aside. Brooks delve into feminism, which, at the time, was an opposed ideology to Mormonism.
The audience was hooked; we laughed, we saddened, and we rejoiced with Brooks as her story unwound. In her memoir, we all found freedom despite the variations of backgrounds and religions dwelling within the room. Breaths and tears released by the audience displayed the interior battles we were facing with our pasts, which separate who we are expected to be, our minds, from the primal part of who we are, our bodies. Because of the different cultures mesmerized by Brooks and her story, we were able to discover an even deeper release as many coming together as one. Her memoir aids in breaking the chains of misconceptions we maintain in regards to our bodies, our desires, and our questions, which stem from religious and general upbringing.
Brooks wrote her story to find greater release from the constraints of worldly expectancy as well as to offer the path she took to others. She envisions freedom in our bodies and self-expression, not bodies metaphorically skewed as precious gifts. Brooks read a few sections of her book to connect to her audience, and to directly address each person in the room. Whether of the same religion or not, her memoir engages the child in all of us that needs to create a path to freedom instead of remaining restrained. She encourages questions because they guide us towards a healthier state of mind, conveying that without these questions and challenges, progression cannot occur. Within her book, Brooks states, “How badly I wanted to belong as I had when I was a young Mormon girl, to be simply a working part in the great Mormon plan of salvation, a smiling exemplar of our sparkling difference. But instead I found myself a headstrong Mormon woman staking out her spiritual survival at a difficult point in Mormon history. ” Brooks paved her own path that mixes the passion of her faith with her passion for feminism, and the outcome is provokingly beautiful.
Jeff Sharlet from The New York Times states, “The Book of Mormon Girl is about one particular religious subculture, but it will resonate with anyone who cares about childhood and its echoes in the adult mind of a scholar who’s also a wise and innovative storyteller.” Though the book is not geared toward children, adults can read it for pleasure, healing, and to learn about the ways that certain structures and stigmas can affect their children throughout their lives. As Brooks weaved together seemingly distinct ideologies to create one unique collaboration, we too can create our own story and structures that combine our passions. We are not chained to the systems of our past. We can progress.
–The events featuring Brooks and her novel are continuing throughout the United States on various college campuses. Brooks has also received great media coverage for the memoir including appearances on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and multiple news stations such as MSNBC; clips of her media appearances are available for viewing online. The Living Writers series is also ongoing at San Diego State University. –
by Lauren Gee