When Joanna Brooks, author of "The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith," writes about her religion she addresses the mocking and the jokes she has endured head-on, without apologies to the many people who only associate Mormonism with "polygamy, racism, archconservatism, secretiveness," or to the Mormon leaders who might prefer that Brooks keep her liberal-leaning opinions about gay marriage, feminism and peace activism to herself.
Despite these challenges, Brooks, like any talented memoirist, forges ahead. "There is no way forward, I believe, but to tell our whole story," she writes. "Not the made-for-television version but the entire very imperfect story, the one that reveals the human flaws of the ones that came before us."
Brooks was raised in Southern California by her devout Mormon family during the 1970s and '80s, "in a house where ancestors knew our names and stepped through the walls, my dreams filled with light." She felt securely wrapped in the cloak of her faith, easily spotting other Mormons at school and birthday parties and eagerly embracing the shining star of Mormon girlhood, Marie Osmond.
It wasn't until she attended college at Brigham Young University that Brooks started to question the tenets of what a "good" Mormon should believe, and with courage she pinned a small -- but life-changing -- peace-sign button to her shoulder bag. She was taunted and insulted; it was her first introduction to "the martial edge of Mormon orthodoxy." Instead of removing the button, she continued to educate herself by joining Mormon feminist study groups and consciousness-raising meetings, a path that led her to exile and a deep feeling for the "bone-soaking sense of loneliness [that] pervades so much of my Mormon pioneer history."
Despite her challenges along the inner and outer edges of her faith, Brooks perseveres as she struggles to explain the nuances of her religion to friends, to strangers, and even to her husband, a man "whose religion entails a combination of Judaism, Buddhism and ESPN." Brooks has continued the conversation on a more public platform by becoming a widely published author and a nationally known authority on Mormon culture and religion.
"The Book of Mormon Girl" is a luminous ode to Brooks' passion for Mormonism, in spite of her church's rejection. It is a memoir written not just for herself, but for others who continue to pursue their faith in the face of abandonment because "No one should be left to feel like she is the only one broken and seeking."
Meganne Fabrega is a freelance writer and a member of the National Book Critics Circle.