There is quite a bit of talk in the United States and in media these days about Mormonism. But regardless of where you swing on the political pendulum, this post is not meant to discuss presidential candidates or religious arguments. I am very excited to introduce to you Joanna Brooks, better known in the blog-0-sphere as Ask Mormon Girl, and author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith.
Joanna – who also happens to be the chair of the SDSU English Department (my alma mater and former employer) – recently spoke with me about her book, faith, family, and being a writer — all subjects near and dear to MY heart.
In The Book of Mormon Girl, Joanna writes a beautifully crafted memoir about growing up as a Mormon; how her life as a young kid felt and how it changed over time when she went to college and became a self-proclaimed feminist (not something closely associated with the Mormon Church at the time). The book is a terrific read, especially if you’ve ever gone through a period in your life where you’ve questioned your faith and background. You must read it!
Feelings of Isolation
Joanna talks about how much she loved her religion, yet growing up (and still today), she felt very much like an outsider when not surrounded by her Mormon family and friends. She described being at birthday parties and trying to find the root beer among the coke-a-cola drinks (Mormon rule does not allow caffeine). I could relate to Joanna’s sentiment. Not because of the root beer (obviously I have no problem with caffeine). But growing up Jewish with only a handful of classmates who shared my religion, I too felt very much alone with my beliefs and culture.
Criticism of Mormonism
As I read Mormon Girl, it occurred to me that it’s rare to see a book written with a Mormon subject. And the word Mormon tended to be associated with negativity. I asked Joanna why she thought that was the case. She believes that since Mormonism is a relatively “new” religion (certainly compared to Judaism and Christianity), there is still a lack of understanding about the faith, which tends to result in stereotyping. Joanna notes that the Mormon faith is coming of age right now, with Mormons sorting out for themselves how to interpret history. In addition, Joanna feels that Mormons have not given themselves a voice in literature or culture. Hers is one of the first books that tells a very true story about growing up as a Morman woman.
Also like me, Joanna is in an interfaith marriage as she’s married to a Jewish man. She and her husband have two daughters, whom they are raising as both Mormon and Jewish. It was important to both Joanna and her husband to teach their kids about their respective religious traditions. “It would have been impossible for me and my husband to pretend our faith does not matter,” she said.
They hope that by teaching their children to appreciate both religions, they will decide for themselves one day which faith is best for them. I really admire Joanna’s strong sense of her own faith and the desire to teach that to her children. While she agrees this approach does not work for everyone, thus far, it has worked well for her family.
The Writing Process
Joanna did not start out to write a book about growing up Mormon. She actually wrote an initial manuscript about interfaith family life. Yet her draft was rejected by agents and publishers because they felt the story was “too Mormon and weird,” and readers would not read books about Mormonism. That sentiment, however, fueled Joanna’s fire. She realized that if people still thought Mormons were weird, then there were clearly not enough Mormon books and voices out there. She re-wrote the book into what is now and decided to independently publish the book. A few months after self publishing, Joanna was contacted by Simon & Schuster, who decided to release the book through their publishing house.
Thank you, Joanna, for making time to talk with me about your book and the courageous life you are living. You are an inspiration and I feel truly blessed to have met you!