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Monday, December 22, 2008

Taken By Storm Not Your Mother's LDS Novel (That's Why I Like It)

You know all the words I usually use to describe LDS novels? Adjectives like preachy,

sentimental, unrealistic, and cheesy? Well, I'm proud to say I won't be using them in this review. That's because Angela Morrison's YA novel Taken By Storm does what most LDS books don't - it takes a Mormon character and explores her life with realistic language, realistic challenges, realistic emotions and, most of all, realistic resolutions. In short, it bypasses all the gooey stuff and lays the story out with unflinching honesty. Words like "skank" and "condom" actually appear. Did I mention this isn't your mother's LDS novel?

(A quick aside: I should probably qualify the term "LDS novel." I consider a book written about Mormon culture by a Mormon author to be an "LDS novel." Most of these are published by Deseret Book, which requires stories to be clean and uplifting (you can read their author guidelines here). Many authors find this too restrictive, so they publish in the mainstream press. IMHO, Deseret Book - type novels are written more for church members, while those published by mainstream presses have wider appeal to readers who are not LDS. I don't know if that makes sense, but I wanted to mention that Taken By Storm was not published by DB. Thus, I struggled with labeling it a "clean read" - it's not graphic by any means, but it is much more realistic than the average LDS novel. That's why I enjoyed it so much.)

Anyway, the book revolves around two high school seniors: Leesie and Michael. Their worlds collide when Michael moves to Leesie's podunk hometown of Tekoa, Washington. A fierce tropical storm has stolen his parents' lives, leaving him deeply scarred. The brooding teenager spends all his time fighting the memories that threaten to engulf him - he's really in no mood to make friends. Leesie knows she shouldn't be so interested in Michael. Not only is he not LDS (and therefore not boyfriend material), but his grief makes him dark and dangerous. Besides, she's just biding her time in the boonies - as soon as her acceptance letter from BYU arrives, she'll run and never look back. But, there's something about Michael that sucks her in, threatening to drown all her resolve to be a good Mormon girl.

It doesn't take long for them to develop a deep, intense relationship. Michael falls for Leesie's farm-fresh innocence, which soothes his troubled soul. Her "rules" drive him crazy, especially the no-sex one, but he's confident he can melt the "Mormon Ice Queen." Even if he can't, he still needs her - she's the only one who can keep his sorrow at bay. Leesie can't help wanting to save Michael's grief-stricken soul, but he has no interest in the Gospel that guides her life. Still she's drawn to him. Too drawn. Her body screams more, more, more, even though she knows she has to resist. It's obvious he's been with girls before, but Leesie's determined not to be one of them. She loves Michael, he wants her to prove it, and, God help her, she wants to show him, but she can't. Besides, she's got a bright future to look forward to - Michael's concerned only about the past and present. How much will Leesie have to give up to love him? Can Michael hang on when she refuses to give him what he needs? The situation takes Leesie to the brink of her faith, threatening to steal everything she believes in, everything she's lived for. It will also try the limits of Michael's patience, toy with his fragile psyche, and browbeat his already shattered heart. Does their impossible love even stand a chance?

The thing that will scare off some LDS readers is the thing I enjoyed most about Taken By Storm - its honesty. The emotion is raw, intense and, at times, so dark it's depressing. It's also very relatable. Through chat room conversations, poetry, and entries in Michael's Dive Log, readers come to know the characters well. Regardless of their religion, readers will recognize Leesie's desire to "be good" in the face of overwhelming temptation. They will also find sympathy for bad-boy Michael, who can't find peace no matter where he looks. Kids who have been spoon-fed cheesy LDS literature, will find Taken By Storm refreshingly real. They'll appreciate that the novel is both hopeful and faith-promoting, but not preachy or wrapped up in a sappy, predictable package.

As much as I enjoyed the book, there are a couple of things that bugged me about it. Number One is the cover. Ick. I never would have picked up this novel based on its cheesy art, which makes Taken By Storm look like a silly romance. This is a serious novel - it begs for a provocative cover. Less important are these two things: (1) The novel is very intense, with lots of dark, raw emotion. I would have liked a little light here and there. And (2) Leesie's extreme Goody-Two-Shoes-ness makes Mormons look a little freaky. Just for the record - most LDS girls live pure lives without acting quite so buttoned-up. These are minor complaints (well, except the rant about the cover - I know I said I wouldn't use the word, but it really is cheesy), because the novel is engrossing, honest and edgy enough that teens will actually want to read it. I, and probably plenty of LDS readers, have been waiting for a book like this. Here's hoping Morrison will continue to publish ... and often.

Grade: A

(Note: Taken By Storm will not be available until March. However, if you sign up to become a Teen Reviewer, you can get your very own ARC right away. Trust me, you want to do this.)


  1. Sounds like our (my daughter and I) kind of book. So I've clicked your link and requested one! Keeping my fingers crossed that it works! :)

  2. That's great. I believe a character in a book can stand for good values without the writer preaching...peace.

  3. There is an excellent children’s book called Other People’s Shoes. It does a great job of teaching kids the importance of kindness inside of a very captivating story. You should check it out! Here is a link:

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Read the copy I won from your blog! It was an enjoyable, easy read with a little tension. I'd recommend it!

  6. Good review! I also really liked this book, I agree though about Leesie. You can still be an active member and not so uptight. Still loved Leesie though, better to be too uptight then not at all?

    I actually really liked the cover, I guess its kind of cheesy, but it still caught my eye. =)

  7. I finally got a copy of this book for my birthday. I liked your review and agree with most of it. Except I hesitate to let any of the YW I teach borrow my copy. Your soo right in it not being cheesy like other LDS book but too edgy for me to recommend to other peoples teens.


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