Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ooey-Gooey Meets Edgy at ... BYU?

(Image from author's website)

(Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for Unbroken Connection, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from the first book in the series, Taken By Storm. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Remember when I gushed about Angela Morrison's debut novel, Taken By Storm? The one about Molly Mormon Leesie Hunt, who lives on a pig farm in teensy Tekoa, Washington and falls in love with Michael Walden, a sexy, scuba-diving non-Mormon? Yeah, that one. Well, the star-crossed couple is back. Unbroken Connection, the second book in the series, continues the story of their unlikely romance. The relationship, which should never have worked in the first place, grows more complicated with each page.

When the novel opens, Leesie's trying to navigate her way through her first year at Brigham Young University. Her attempts at juggling homework, roommate drama, and "pity" dates with eligible LDS men, aren't quite enough to keep her mind away from Michael, who's working on a dive boat in Thailand. Although she knows keeping her distance from him is the only thing that will keep her chaste (one of her unbreakable rules), just chatting on the computer with him sends Leesie's hormones into overdrive. She misses Michael with a fierceness that scares her.

As much as Michael would like to forget Leesie with all her prude, Mormon rules, he can't. Diving can't distract him. Other girls don't shift his focus. Nothing can erase her. If only he could convince her to join him in Thailand. They could get married - whatever - as long as they're together. There's only one problem: Leesie won't settle for a courthouse wedding. She'll only marry in one of her Mormon temples. Since Michael hardly believes in God, let alone all Leesie's religious crap, he doesn't stand a chance with her. He wishes he could just accept that and move on. Except he can't.

At a hopeless impasse with Michael, Leesie tries to concentrate on her studies, tries to reconcile herself to loving the returned missionary whose worthiness is what she knows she deserves. But when Michael shows up in Utah, everything changes. And when tragedy strikes, things shift again. Can Leesie and Michael weather the storms that howl around them? Or will their differences yank them apart for good?

If you've read any LDS fiction, you know that most novels written for Mormon teens tend to completely ignore pesky little issues like hormones, sexual attraction, naughty thoughts, making out, bodily reactions to making out, etc.. The result? Storylines that bear no resemblance to the reality of being an LDS teenager. You know why I like Angela Morrison? She tells it like it is without getting too graphic. Through Leesie, she describes the plight of "good girls" everywhere who struggle to remain pure when temptation looks so darn good. Michael's perspective will resound with all the "good guys" out there who fight their bodies and minds daily out of respect for their girlfriends. As much as we want to believe that LDS kids don't wrestle with these issues, they so totally do. I'm glad at least one author out there isn't afraid to admit it. She does it well, too, with polished prose and an edginess that always surprises - and delights - me.

That being said, I have to confess that Leesie and Michael started to really nauseate me in Unbroken Connection. Some of their chat sessions made me want to gag. Sorry, but it's true. What made me want to gag even more is that when my husband read the cheesiest passages, he said, "This reminds me of us." And, embarrassingly enough, I had to agree with him. Despite some ooey-gooey moments, Morrison's descriptions of BYU life made me laugh, and the story had enough conflict to keep me interested. I didn't enjoy it as much as I did Taken By Storm, but still, I appreciate Morrison's candor, her sense of humor, and her ability to write meaningful, realistic fiction. Cheesy or not.

(Readalikes: Taken By Storm and Cayman Summer by Angela Morrison)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for mild language (no F-bombs) and a fair amount of sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love: I received a ARC of Unbroken Connection from the always generous Angela Morrison. Thank you!

8 comments:

  1. I have absolutely no desire to read these. They just sound too mushy. However, I agree with you that Mormon books come off sounding fake and contrived and just plain unrealistic. I like that these one are at least honest.

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  2. Soooooo did you see that ending coming????

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  3. LOL--the only difference between real life and fiction is that fiction has to be believable. :) Who would believe that a real-life couple would sound so gushy?

    Which is why the real-life conversations of couples are usually un-printable.

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  4. Jenny - You should try the first book in the series, TAKEN BY STORM, because it's actually a very edgy and realistic LDS novel. I didn't like the second or third books nearly as much, although they all have an honesty that I really appreciate.

    Laura - I actually read a spoiler for the book somewhere, so the ending wasn't a surprise. If I hadn't read the spoiler, I don't know if I would have been surprised or not.

    Robin - Ha ha. Too true.

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  5. Who is this published by? Because I wrote a book about morality and hormones and all that. Deseret Book LOVED it, said it was so well written and realistic. The Assistant to the Product manager took it to their committee and they chatted about it for six weeks in a row before giving it the big fat axe. I don't think it's that Mormon writer's are *afraid* to write books like this. It's that books like this *will not* be published by an LDS publisher.

    I'll stop now, because I could go on for pages (hours.)

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  6. Susan - Good point. That line should probably read LDS *publishers* not LDS *authors*. And, truly, I get why LDS publishers can't or don't want to touch honest teen novels like these, I really do. However, I think they're doing LDS teens a disservice by not addressing the issues teens are really dealing with every day. LDS fiction - even that published by Deseret Book - IS getting better, more realistic, but just not quite enough, IMHO.

    Oh, and the first book in this series was published by Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin. It wasn't, however, interested in publishing the last two books so Angela did it herself via CreateSpace.

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  7. Susan, I'm dying laughing at your husband's reaction to M&L's cheesy scenes. Cheesiness is a definite pitfall when you try to write romantic stuff. I'm revising a new novel, SLIPPED, and was gagging at cheesiness. I hacked it out. Sometimes what you write in a creative fervor sounds so wonderful, but then when you go back to it, you blush. Mushy? But the mush is balanced with the tragedies that Michael and Leesie have to cope with.

    Re publishers, I didn't ever try to sell this novel (or TAKEN BY STORM) to an LDS publisher. I wrote STORM as my MFA thesis at Vermont College, so it was always intended for a national audience. I don't know any other novel published by a major national publisher that star a faithful Mormon girl trying to live her religion written by an active Latter Day Saint. There are novels, like BURNED, and numerous polygamy books written to expose how awful Mormons are. Those sell millions and win big awards. TAKEN BY STORM was subtly buried. It got a starred review from Publisher's Weekly but was torn to pieces by Kirkus and School Library Journal.

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  8. Angela - Yeah, he's a funny guy :) A very sentimental one, too. Mushiness is one of the reasons I don't read romance very often because, really, how do you write romance without it? I'm sure that's a huge struggle when you write it. Also, what one person calls cheese another might call achingly romantic, you know?

    And, I don't understand the national media either. Why are they only interested in the sleazy parts of a history/culture? I don't understand why there can't be more leading ladies like Leesie. There are an awful lot of "good girls" out there - Mormons or not - who need a role model like her.

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