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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mormon Mentions: Kristen Tracy

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."

[Long pause.

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.



  1. One of my friends is Mormon and she drinks coffee. It's her dirty little secret, so don't tell anyone! ;)

  2. I can't really say anything because I haven't read the book but just from the passages you shared...The author sounds a little biased against "fake" Mormons. You know? They say they're Mormon but then they break all the rules?

  3. Maybe there needs to be more love and less self-righteous judgement.

  4. Shelley - Like I said, breaking the Word of Wisdom isn't going to get you kicked out of the church or anything and I agree, as far as "sins" go, drinking coffee's pretty minor. Most Mormons don't drink coffee, though, not ever. Mt. Dew? Well, that's a whole other story ...

    All of us have our weaknesses and none of us have the right to judge each other. I absolutely agree with you there.

    Jenny - Yeah, that kind of hypocrisy definitely bugs. Don't you just hate those people who claim to live righteously and then go around drinking Mt. Dew? Oh wait - that's me. Good thing we Mormons are also taught not to judge people :)

  5. I was referring to all religions, there seems to be too much judging instead of just accepting someone in spite of their flaws. I looked into joining a Mormon church in my area once but I wasn't allowed because I drink tea. I'm Irish...I'm not giving up my cup of tea! :)

  6. Shelley - I agree wholeheartededly and, to be honest, Mormons are notoriously quick to judge people based on things we aren't "allowed" to do - smoking, drinking, tattoos, sleeping around, etc. There definitely needs to be more empathy and understanding.

    About the tea - I think the Word of Wisdom is a ton easier to accept for those of us who've been raised in the church. We've never been introduced to those kinds of habits, therefore we don't "miss" coffee/tea/smoking, etc. Since caffeinated pop isn't specifically forbidden (the WOW was revealed in 1833), lots of Mormons drink it without feeling TOO guilty. Coffee and tea, however, are pretty strongly identified as being harmful to our bodies (a revolutionary idea in 1833). So, yeah, I guess following the Word of Wisdom is one of those "small and simple things" we do to show obedience. It's easy for us (well, maybe not the Irish ones of us!) to give those things up in exchange for the blessings of the gospel.

    *Steps off soapbox*

    P.S. There's always HERBAL tea :) Oooh, and Postum. Yummy!

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  9. What I didn't understand is that the Word of Wisdom also says not to eat meat except for times of famine but Mormons still eat meat and it also says that it was given "without commandment or constraint" and yet so much constraint is put on coffee/tea. The missionaries treated me like some sort of heroine addict and criminal. Made me feel very unworthy and unwanted. Turned me off religion completely. Although I still consider myself spiritual....I still pray and read scriptures. Just won't be joining any church. I think spirituality should be freeing and not binding. Thanks for sharing your thoughts though. I appreciate it!

  10. Grrr ... I'm sorry you were treated that way. Obviously, that's not how it's supposed to be. It's true, the WOW is said to be a guideline, but there are certainly some things LDS people see as absolutes. Funny enough, though, the strictness about coffee seems to have evolved over time - Mormon pioneers took large amounts of both coffee and tea on their journeys. These days, it's avoided altogether. The point of it all has to do with keeping our bodies clean and our minds open by avoiding habit-forming substances. But, I think it's open to interpretation - the meat thing being an excellent example. It says to eat meat sparingly, which not everyone does. So, yeah.

    I was talking to my husband (who served a mission in South America) about this and he said that what he noticed about the people he taught who had to give up coffee/tea/smoking/alcohol to join the church is how freeing it was for them to forgo those things, how much better they felt - both physically and emotionally - without those addictions.

    I'm glad that you still pray and read scriptures and are willing to investigate/ask questions even when you've had bad experiences with religion before. Thanks again for the discussion. You've given me lots to think about!


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