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My Progress:

10 / 30 books. 33% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama (1)
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Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Mormon Mentions: Sonja Yoerg

If you're not sure what a Mormon is, let alone a Mormon Mention, allow me to explain:  My name is Susan and I'm a Mormon (you've seen the commercials, right?).  As a member of  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon or LDS Church), I'm naturally concerned with how my religion is portrayed in the media.  Because this blog is about books, every time I see a reference to Mormonism in a book written by someone who is not a member of my church, I highlight it here.  Then, I offer my opinion—my insider's view—of what the author is saying.  It's my chance to correct misconceptions, expound on principles of the Gospel, and even to laugh at my (sometimes) crazy Mormon culture.

(Note:  In 2018, Russell M. Nelson—president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saintsmade an impassioned plea to members of the Church and to the media to always use the full and correct name of the Church instead of referring to it by its various nicknames.  This led to the renaming of many Church entities, including its famous choir, which is now The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.  Although I have been trying to think up a clever new name for this feature that is more in line with President Nelson's request, for the moment it remains "Mormon Mentions.")


The Family Ship by Sonja Yoerg revolves around a large family.  The following exchange takes place between one of the siblings and his friends while they're sneakily drinking beer around a fire pit:

"How many you got again?"

"Four brothers and three sisters.  Plus one more on the way."

Beetle let out a low whistle.  "You're not Mormons or anything, are you?"

Boone punched his arm.  "Ever hear of a beer-drinking Mormon, you half-wit?"

*Please note that quotes were taken from an uncorrected proof of The Family Ship, quote at about 31%.

If you know anything about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it's probably that family is valued very highly.  Because of this, members of the Church often have large families with lots of children.  Although it's not as common today, in past decades it wasn't unusual for Mormon parents to have half a dozen to a dozen children (or more).  I only have five siblings, so I guess my family might be considered small by Mormon standards!  

Another thing that is widely known about members of the Church is that we abide by a health code called The Word of Wisdom (see Doctrine and Covenants Section 89 and this explanation).  This dictates that we not drink alcohol or "hot drinks" (coffee and tea) and avoid tobacco use and other substances that are harmful to the body.  So, while a Mormon certainly could drink a beer (we have our agency, after all), most members of the Church do their best to abide by the Word of Wisdom and refrain.

The family in The Family Ship, by the way, are not members of the Church.  

Like Many Voyages, The Family Ship Takes A Long Time to Get Anywhere

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"The ship, Verity realized, was their true church because they went there to show respect for order, for diligence, for their higher, more disciplined selves.  Sure, it was made-up, but what difference did that make?" (quote from an uncorrected e-ARC of The Family Ship, 11%)

When Arthur and Maeve Vergennes bought their home on an isolated inlet of the Chesapeake Bay, an old oyster boat came with the property.  They christened the grounded vessel Nepenthe.  Over the years, Arthur has used it to teach his nine children some of the discipline he gained while serving with the Navy in Korea.  Not only has it served as an elaborate playground for the kids, but through their many imaginary voyages they have formed themselves into a tight crew that values duty, dedication, and their father's family-first approach to life. 

Unlike her 14-year-old sister, who's grown embarrassed by the childish doings on Nepenthe, 18-year-old Verity still spends a lot of her time entertaining her younger siblings by planning and executing daring escapades.  Lately, though, she's feeling the weight of her responsibility.  Unbeknownst to her parents, she's applied to an out-of-state school.  She knows her father—who values family over everything else and intends for her to live at home while attending a local community college—will see it as a betrayal.  Especially since Verity's older brother, Jude, has already abandoned them.  Between Arthur's unwillingness to let her go and her mother's newest pregnancy, which is becoming increasingly worrisome, Verity feels trapped between duty to her family and her desire for a life of her own.  When tragedy strikes, she starts to realize just how alone she and her siblings really are.  Can they keep the family together when everything around them is falling apart?  Can the teamwork that unites them on Nepenthe save them as things go hopelessly awry?  If family love is supposed to cradle you in its protective arms, why does Verity feel like she's being suffocated by the very people who are supposed to love her most?

There's a lot to love about The Family Ship, the newest novel by Sonja Yoerg.  The idea of an old ship as both playground and school is a fun one.  The warm, large-family chaos described in the book rings true, especially for someone who's part of a big brood, like me.  I definitely relate to Verity's plight.  While Arthur's a complicated character, his dedication to his family makes him admirable, if not always understandable.  His wife is unrealistically angelic (I mean, c'mon, no stay-at-home mom adores all of her children every second of every day) but still likable.  While the kids all kind of blend together at times (which is true-to-life in a large clan), they have distinct personalities which make them feel like a believable bunch.  Their story involves some tough subject matter, but overall it's a hopeful tale, something I always appreciate in a family saga.  

My biggest problem with The Family Ship is that it drags on and on and on without really going anywhere.  I kept checking how far I'd read and being shocked when my Kindle said only "30%" or "47%."  Although the action picks up toward the end of the book, the story definitely drags and gets dull.  So, even though I enjoyed being enveloped in the Vergennes' lively household, I still wanted their tale to be more dynamic and exciting.  It's compelling, don't get me wrong.  It just takes Yoerg a loooonnnggg time to tell it.  In the end, then, I liked The Family Ship, but its wordiness and lack of plot made reading it more of a slog than it should have been.  Bummer.  I really wanted to love this one.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little bit of The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah and If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a few F-bombs, plus occasional milder expletives), violence, and disturbing subject matter (including a brief attempted rape scene)

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Family Ship from the generous folks at Lake Union Publishing via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

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