the girl can write

March 5th, 2012

About two years ago I read something on the web that I loved. I adore words, and I often admire other writing. But this was different than admiration. It was as if someone cracked open my ribcage and wrote the ache in my heart.

The piece by Joanna Brooks was called There is no Such Thing as Half, a courageous bit of outspokenness against the fractional religious classification of her children, born of a Mormon mom and Jewish dad. I read it and gushed blood, then immediately wrote a fan letter to Joanna. The similarities of our interfaith families, as all similarities, didn’t end there. It turns out she was a beloved professor to my next-door neighbor’s first-born. We both came of age on the suburban rim of the California orange groves. We shared the relative obscurity of all fledgling writers, figuring out how to woo readers, win publishers, and assemble the mythical “platform” that we’ve been told will yield access to the promised land of literary inclusion.

All I could offer her was encouragement. She went on and did everything by her pioneering self, becoming the go-to media girl for progressive Mormonism, a commentator at the frontier of politics, faith and feminism. Last month she published her memoir, and I recommend it to you here.

The Book of Mormon Girl is the story of deeply loving one’s faith, surviving its narrowness, renouncing its arrogance, and ultimately reclaiming the church. It is as smartly rendered as language can be, and it is beautifully, universally true. It gives me hope. Hope for our miscounted daughters, for our misunderstood grandmothers, and for the achingly faithful hearts, like mine, still beating and bleeding for peace, tolerance, and the seemingly lost cause of human respect. It gives me hope for our common lineage: love.

Comment on this post for a chance to win my copy of the book, to be drawn this Friday.

60 Comments »

  1. Sounds like a lovely read – your review makes me want to rush to my local bookstore! Thank you!

    Comment by Jenny — March 5, 2012 @ 7:19 am

  2. I’m intrigued. would love to read.

    Comment by Jeanette — March 5, 2012 @ 7:50 am

  3. Such praise and wonderful parallels with your work, your life. I would be honored to read this. Thank you both for sharing your faith and sharing the love.

    Comment by Jen Anderson — March 5, 2012 @ 7:56 am

  4. I am intrigued! I doubt I would have picked it up on my own, so thank you for the recommendation.

    Comment by Stephanie Rayburn — March 5, 2012 @ 7:59 am

  5. Love is all that’s on my mind, so do count me in!

    Comment by Roos — March 5, 2012 @ 8:34 am

  6. oh yes, the common lineage…love. thank you for this exquisite and generous offering. wholehearted gratitude to you and joanna brooks.

    Comment by melissa — March 5, 2012 @ 9:09 am

  7. I don’t know exactly why, but I feel a connection. Thank you for a chance to read!

    Comment by Donn King — March 5, 2012 @ 9:19 am

  8. Sounds like a read to inspire hope in my relationship with my own childhood faith x

    Comment by ella de roeck — March 5, 2012 @ 9:31 am

  9. I would love to read this and learn more about progressive Mormonism!

    Comment by Mary Register — March 5, 2012 @ 9:34 am

  10. It is not always easy, I think, to be true to one’s heart and to embrace one’s faith.

    Comment by debra — March 5, 2012 @ 9:42 am

  11. with the potential for a Mormon President, I would like to read this book for insight into this faith, if only through Joanna’s eyes

    Comment by MJ — March 5, 2012 @ 9:48 am

  12. Ooh, ooh. Do your books come with liner notes? Always fascinating to see what others highlight!

    Comment by J — March 5, 2012 @ 11:19 am

  13. [...] seemingly lost cause of human respect. It gives me hope for our common lineage: love.”–Karen Maezen Miller, author of Momma Zen:  Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood and Hand Wash Cold:  Instructions [...]

    Pingback by Joanna Brooks — March 5, 2012 @ 11:25 am

  14. Wow great stuff, I popped over and read some of her articles and blog posts. Certainly opened my eyes to Mormonism way beyond anything I had ever read before. Thanks for the opening! _/\_

    Comment by Puerhan — March 5, 2012 @ 12:20 pm

  15. I remember reading and being so moved by her piece when you first linked to it. This is the kind of memoir I would eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

    Comment by Jena — March 5, 2012 @ 12:35 pm

  16. I got chills reading your description of the book. I’d love to read it.

    Comment by Miv — March 5, 2012 @ 12:43 pm

  17. Living in Utah and coming from pioneer stock I’m grateful to have been introduced to progressive Mormonism from my favorite Buddhist mama. It was your link to her that helped me first realize that I wasn’t alone in discovering my place within religion.

    Comment by Jenica — March 5, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

  18. I would love to read this. :)

    Comment by lizriz — March 5, 2012 @ 12:50 pm

  19. I’m always up for a good book.

    Comment by Valerie — March 5, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

  20. I “found” Joanna Brooks today via an article and put her books on my wish-list straight away!
    I am Swedish and I am Mormon. I love both identities; they are not two but are intertwined. I am a feminist (of course) and a Sunday-school teacher. I love to ask questions!
    On Joanna’s blog “Ask Mormon Girl” I found a question today (March 4th.) about the priesthood ban “What might we have to gain from admitting we were wrong?” What an excellent question! (And excellent quotes of W. E. B. DuBois.) I believe there is much fear, still, in the Mormon church to question history – a fear to undermine faith. But fear is not a good path…
    Which brings me to a quote by Simone Weil: “It seemed to me certain, and I still think so today, that one can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for the truth. Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms. ” I love that last sentence! http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/18395.Simone_Weil
    I believe all Mormons (as well as others) have a responsibility “wrestle with God” on our knees, yes, but also in our discourse – so that we may know him better. So that we may understand ourselves, our society and our world better. I believe this increases tolerance and charity – and therefore faith.
    Joanna Brooks, it seems, is not afraid to keep her mind open, to continue searching for the essential, to highlight in congruencies while preserving charity and sincere respect. I’d love to read her memoir!

    Comment by Marion Fust Sæternes — March 5, 2012 @ 12:59 pm

  21. I’ll expect to order it on Saturday, but I’m often ready for a bit of luck. There is no such thing as half, never thought of it that way.

    Comment by Chris — March 5, 2012 @ 1:10 pm

  22. “the story of deeply loving one’s faith, surviving its narrowness, renouncing its arrogance, and ultimately reclaiming the church”
    I don’t know if I can go as far as that last line, as a woman who loved the Catholic faith of her childhood and who now practices Zen as she understands it and celebrates with the Episcopalians…while living in Utah and surrounded by Mormons. I think, win or not, this is a book I need to read.

    Comment by Deirdre — March 5, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

  23. I’ve got to say, I never would have imagined coming here and seeing Joanna Brooks’ name… :-) A pleasant surprise. Would love to read.

    Comment by Angela DiGiovanni | Living Out Loud — March 5, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

  24. I’d love to read it!

    Comment by Kitty Shannon — March 5, 2012 @ 2:15 pm

  25. Knowledge and acceptance are what will bring us together. Thank you for posting something about another faith. Perhaps it will help us all to open our eyes a bit more.

    Comment by Kendra — March 5, 2012 @ 2:22 pm

  26. I feel like this is one of those books that helps me to understand. It’s the understanding that leads to my compassion and my respect for my fellow humans.

    Comment by Joan — March 5, 2012 @ 2:55 pm

  27. Sounds fascinating – I would love to read it!

    Comment by Anna — March 5, 2012 @ 2:58 pm

  28. I’d love to read this. As part of an interfaith family, I’m intrigued. As a part of our society, which can too often be narrow and divisive, I’m in need.

    Comment by Sharon — March 5, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

  29. “my lineage is love”…is my blessing today. Thank you. And the book giveaway would be another blessing…

    Comment by Laura Hodge — March 5, 2012 @ 3:39 pm

  30. Your own words, describing this book, sing to my heart. How open, how illuminating. How utterly how I wish to speak from my own heart.

    Comment by Kim — March 5, 2012 @ 4:59 pm

  31. Oh…I would love to read this. Thank you for the chance!

    Comment by Amanda — March 5, 2012 @ 5:20 pm

  32. Love the way you shine your light on others — and I’d love to read the book, too, so count me in.

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — March 5, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

  33. struggling with finding a place in organized religion and keep falling in line with progressive Christianity which is so not like what I know Christianity to be. Would love to read this about her experience. Have a friend that has left the Mormon Church and is struggling with her own place. Will recommend this to her. Thanks!

    Comment by Robyn Moore — March 5, 2012 @ 6:28 pm

  34. It all comes down to tolerance and respect, doesn’t it?

    Comment by Mimi — March 5, 2012 @ 7:51 pm

  35. I am sold! Would love to read this. Thanks for the chance.

    Comment by Mathangi — March 5, 2012 @ 8:10 pm

  36. I learned about Joanna on the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog and immediately fell in love with her. Thanks for bringing news of her book here! Can’t wait to read it!

    Comment by Kristine Bingham — March 5, 2012 @ 8:17 pm

  37. I too would love to read this book as every day I struggle with the thorny questions of ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ and now even in my mid-life years I am still no nearer to an ‘answer’ or ‘resolution’! I try to live the questions, but it is hard, and always helped, at least for a while, by hearing of how others, especially women, have coped.

    Comment by Edith — March 5, 2012 @ 11:56 pm

  38. Mormons are a rather alien species here in England so I would be very interested in reading this book as I have very little knowledge of what theses people hold dear, what makes them tick. I have recently been learning a lot about about Amish folk, who seem just about the sweetest people on earth, and my Quaker friends are very honest and loving folks too. There are so many pockets and shades of faith, and I do truly believe the words from the bible that God is love. Pure love. Whatever symbolic means we adopt to dress it up into a religious outfit that we are happy to wear is part of our personality, but however we dress it up, without love the outfit means nothing. We’re all seeking to connect and stay close to love. Some non-believers achieve this, some with faith, others who sit on the fence. Being religious doesn’t guarantee a closeness to love- some religious folks in every society in the world are mean, proud, selfish, in large measure – whereas some non- believers are meek, humble, simple and extremely kind. It’s a state of heart. Where there is love, there is god.

    Comment by Motherfunker — March 6, 2012 @ 12:50 am

  39. I would love the opportunity to read this!

    Comment by Susan — March 6, 2012 @ 1:54 am

  40. I will pick up a copy. Thank you for posting your thoughts.

    Comment by Angela Nisley — March 6, 2012 @ 2:45 am

  41. I love reading books you recommend. This one is going on my list!

    Comment by Ranya — March 6, 2012 @ 3:31 am

  42. The connection you had with Mrs Brook’s writing is eerily similar to the connection I had with your splendid book Hand Wash Cold. I too grew up in So. California, and am now in Kansas City, never did put much importance on religion/spirituality until I was incarcerated. Did I go on a search for salvation? No, I was looking for clues from all the wrong places. The biggest clue is inside me just like it is inside all of us! Thanks for the recommendation!

    Comment by benton — March 6, 2012 @ 4:00 am

  43. I grew up Mormon and tried to find a place where I fit – but it wasn’t there. I’m interested to read her story, especially if she found a place for herself within the bounds of the Mormon church.

    Comment by Sarah Griffin — March 6, 2012 @ 4:13 am

  44. The offer of a good book recommended by an author I admire – I certainly can’t resist that!

    Comment by Dawn — March 6, 2012 @ 4:52 am

  45. Sounds lovely!

    Comment by Aparna — March 6, 2012 @ 7:15 am

  46. Wow! I just added this book to my wish list. Joanna Brooks sure can write, and I am always looking for inspiring stories of spiritual journeys. Thank you for sharing, Karen.

    Comment by Pamela Gottfried — March 6, 2012 @ 7:39 am

  47. As much as I adore and admire your writing, I take note when you so highly praise the writing of another.

    Comment by wesleyjeanne — March 6, 2012 @ 8:01 am

  48. Thank you for sharing this, Karen.

    Comment by Ines — March 6, 2012 @ 9:40 am

  49. I worked with a woman who had embraced the Mormon church as an adult. We became fast friends. We even traveled to a local Zen center, as she was curious about my beliefs. I was stunned to discover that another staff member, a self proclaimed born again Christian, was deliberately undermining my friend, at work, on religious grounds. Rallying the other teachers in our small group, we took our concerns to the administration. Things were settled.
    We must all live by our own beliefs while respecting the beliefs of others.

    Comment by Judith Smith — March 6, 2012 @ 10:18 am

  50. I, too, have been reading the marvelous Joanna Brooks since her essay “There is No Such Thing as Half.” And as someone born into an interfaith family, I firmly believe that children can benefit from growing up immersed in more than one religion.

    Comment by Susan Katz Miller — March 6, 2012 @ 10:48 am

  51. Some of the comments on this book are deeply moving in their sincerity; I must immediately go to our excellent interlibrary loan system and read her…… thank you for bringing her writing to me.

    Comment by Mary P. — March 6, 2012 @ 7:10 pm

  52. I’ve been wondering about progressive Mormonism lately–especially from a feminist perspective. I feel like I catch glimpses of it in Terry Tempest Williams’ work, but this book will offer a different kind of more. Thank you for the information and the generosity.

    Comment by Kim Bowers — March 7, 2012 @ 7:54 am

  53. I am intrigued! Thank you for recommending good writing. I think I may recommend this for my book club when it is my turn to pick the book- we are a group of outspoken women from various economic, spiritual and political backgrounds, and we love to read about womens’ life journeys. Thank you!

    Comment by Maura Clark — March 7, 2012 @ 9:29 am

  54. My heart too aches for peace and tolerance and I try to bring about that change through love, endless, compassionate love.

    Comment by Joanne M — March 7, 2012 @ 11:57 am

  55. Any book recommended by you is one I want to read! Would love this one.

    Comment by kathleen — March 7, 2012 @ 5:51 pm

  56. when i need encouragement… a breath… i come here and always find comfort in your words xx

    Comment by Lynne Malan — March 7, 2012 @ 11:21 pm

  57. lovely.

    Comment by suzanne l. vinson — March 8, 2012 @ 4:14 am

  58. Yes please!

    Comment by Anamika — March 8, 2012 @ 6:53 am

  59. Sounds like a good read. Thanks for pointing it out :-)

    Comment by Paul Brennan — March 9, 2012 @ 6:05 am

  60. Lady luck…..

    Comment by Marie — March 13, 2012 @ 8:42 am

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