Normally, I don't include LDS authors in my Mormon Mentions, but since YA novelist Kristen Tracy no longer practices the religion (at least as far as I can tell), I figure she's fair game. Besides, she mentions Mormonism quite a bit in her newest novel, Sharks & Boys, so really, how can I resist?
If you haven't got a clue what a Mormon Mention is, allow me to explain: When I see a reference to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known as the Mormons) in a book which was not written by a member of the church, I post it here. With commentary from Yours Truly. I'm no theologian, but I try to explain doctrinal issues as well as debunk myths and clear up misconceptions. Speaking of, I should probably make this crystal clear: My dad only has one wife. As does my husband. And, yes, people really have asked me those questions. Just FYI: mainstream Mormons haven't practiced polygamy for more than 120 years.
Everybody got that? Great. Let's move on ...
In Sharks & Boys, the main character has two Mormon friends, twin guys named Skate and Burr. They're high schoolers, not saints, but the way Tracy portrays them is, um, interesting. I thought so, anyway. Let's see what you think.
Even during the good times Skate and Burr were hopelessly immature. They wore stupid T-shirts with juvenile messages printed across their chests. Burr's: I'VE UPPED MY STANDARDS, SO UP YOURS. And Skate's: I CAN'T, I'M MORMON. Skate and Burr talk about being Mormon quite a bit. But they don't behave like they come from a conservative religious persuasion. Presbyterians, maybe (21).
- Personally, I think this passage is hilarious. Burr's fashion statement is a little too bold for me, but I'd totally buy Skate's shirt for my almost-teenager. It would make that whole resisting-peer-pressure thing a lot easier.
If you're at all familiar with the LDS Church, you probably know about the "I Can't"s to which the shirt is referring - no drinking (includes alcohol, coffee, even caffeinated pop), no smoking, no swearing, no sex outside of marriage, etc. Seems like a lot, but, really, it's not that bad.
Burr: "If I weren't Mormon, I think I'd own a bar."
Landon: "Yeah, I've noticed that your faith totally seems to be stifling your lifestyle."
Burr: "And my future."
Dale: "It would be awesome if you owned a bar. What would you name it?"
Burr: "The Thirsty Manatee."
Dale: "I'd drink there."
Munny: "If you don't want to be Mormon, why don't you quit? Take your life into your own hands while you're still young."
Skate: "It's our heritage. It's who we are" (48)
- Plenty of people attend the LDS church simply because it's what people in their family have always done or, if they still live at home, because it's what their parents expect/demand from them. Unlike a lot of religions, Mormonism requires a whole lot more from a person than just attending a meeting every now and then. It truly is a heritage, a lifestyle, an all-encompassing, life-altering thing. That kind of committment doesn't fly with a lot of people. Mormon teenagers, especially, struggle with accepting their parents' beliefs over their own developing attitudes. That's where gaining a personal testimony of the church's doctrine comes in.
On pages 51, 52, and 53, there are references to the LDS boys drinking beer.
- Even though drinking alcohol is prohibited by a health code we call the "Word of Wisdom," lots of people (especially teens) try it. It's not something that will get you excommunicated from the church or anything like that. Still, drinking is definitely frowned upon.
Under an arm, Skate and Burr are each carrying a brown paper sack. I can't believe that they're both going to attend Brigham Young University in the fall. Maybe that's the whole point of drinking now. Once they enter Utah, they won't be getting inebriated again for quite some time (58).
- First off, there are certainly bars in Utah, so finding a drink in the Holy Land isn't as impossible as Tracy makes it sound. Second, I've said that Mormon teens have been known to try a drink or two - so, the author's description of the boys drinking is realistic, if not flattering. My problem with this passage is that, usually, the kind of kids who spend their weekends sucking down booze as nonchalantly as Skate and Burr aren't the kind that attend BYU, a college that's won the distinction of being the most "stone-cold sober" for 14 years in a row. Now, I'm not naive enough to think that no one at BYU drinks - I mean, there very well could be a huge underground drinking movement there that I don't know about (after all, lots of crazy things happen at the Y) - but the majority of BYU students really and truly are stone-cold sober.
Burr goes next and he really comes to life. He sits up straight and speaks with an energetic enthusiasm that I haven't heard come out of him in a very long time. "I want to go on a mission someplace cool. I hope I get sent to Russia."
Neither Skate nor Burr have talked that much about going on missions, but Skate sure seems jazzed about it right now. "The suits. The Missionary Training Center. The companions. The bicycle. The name tags. I'm ready for it."
Skate looks up and smiles. "Me too. Russia. France. Brazil. A faraway place. I want to learn a language" (137).
- Again, I think this is a realistic portrayal of Mormon teenage boys, especially those who've faced as much hardship as these two characters have. While they're still struggling to find themselves, still grappling with their testimonies, still figuring out what to do with their lives, they're excited about the possibility of serving church missions. If they're out boozing on the weekends, then they're not "ready" as Skate states, but at least they're headed in the right direction.
As you may or may not know, worthy (meaning they follow the rules of the church, including the no-drinking thing) Mormon boys go on missions at the age of 19. Girls can go at 21. Older married couples may also serve missions. Missionaries are sent all over the world to preach the gospel. Since missionaries represent the church, talking about God pretty much 24/7, they are required to be morally clean, spiritually-minded, and 100% committed to the church and its teachings. There's definitely a stigma involved with not going, so sure, some kids go for the wrong reasons. Some of these missionaries find their faith in the field, others stick it out to avoid the shame of coming home early, and still others return home, unable to complete two whole years (or 18 months, in the case of the women) of proselyting.
To avoid spoilers, I'm not going to give you the last quote verbatim. Let's just say it involves beer drinkers and heaven.
- Drinking alcohol is against the Word of Wisdom, therefore, most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints don't indulge. At all. However, we don't believe that drinking alcohol is a mortal sin or anything like that. In other words, a sip of alcohol won't keep you out of heaven. A keg - well, that's another matter :) Kidding, kidding. In all seriousness, problems with the Word of Wisdom are brought up with an individual's bishop (local clergy). In the case of addiction, counseling is provided via LDS Family Services.
So, interesting Mormon Mentions, right? If you've read Sharks & Boys, how did you feel about Tracy's portrayal of Burr and Skate? Realistic or not so much? Even if you haven't read the book, any thoughts on the quotes I included? BTW: They are from an ARC of the book and may have been changed in the final version of the novel.