Book Reviews by Conor Hilton

Conor Hilton is a BYU graduate student who has been reviewing lots of Mormon literature on Goodreads lately. I received permission from him to publish his most recent reviews as a group.

Educated a Memoir by Tara WestoverEducated: A Memoir  by Tara Westover. 5 Stars

Wow. This book is incredible. Beautifully written and stunning throughout. There’s so much to talk about and think about that I don’t even know where to start. There’s probably something for everyone here, though there’s some rough family dynamics (abuse & domestic violence, gaslighting, etc) that could be hard for some to read.

Westover crafts a powerful narrative from her life that is harsh and raw and vulnerable and filled with incredible grace for her unimaginable upbringing. She writes about education and learning and grief and loss and forgiveness and acceptance and reconciling the complexities of humans with how they love and hurt us.

There’s also ideas about zealotry and mental illness and family and love and religion. Read this. Fast. And then let’s talk about it.

Lawless Women by Heather Harris BergevinLawless Women by Heather Harris Bergen. 4 stars

There’s loads to think about in these poems and much to unpack. They benefit from re-reading and from a rich understanding of myth, fairy tales, and all sorts of other things that Heather is fascinated by. The personal is found here not in the exposure of Heather’s life in the poems, but in what she draws from and what she brings out of those sources.

The structure of the poems plays interestingly with the book’s title of “lawless” with words running together spaceless, meter and line breaks all over the place, a sense that the world in which these poems inhabit is a lawless frontier–the wild wild west of poetry.

I’m not sure these poems are for me, per say, they seem meant for women, for giving them something they haven’t had or have had taken away, rehabilitating or at least humanizing characters we thought we knew. I’m glad I read this. Stuff to think about for sure.

I read the first edition last year and found it thought-provoking. I think reading through this time I was even more impressed. The two essays that are added are quite good. There’s nuggets and tidbits to think about scattered throughout.

Letters to a Young Mormon by Adam S. MillerLetters to a Young Mormon (2nd edition), by Adam S. Miller. 5 stars

Adam has a strong Pauline vibe to his thought, which is evident here in the presence of grace & dying in Christ (and promise to be around in spades in his upcoming book). I find a lot of Adam’s work compelling and insightful and always worth engaging with. I don’t agree with everything he writes, but I don’t think he demands that of the reader. I might do some more explicit engagement with specific sections of the book on my blog, but for now, I think this is well worth the attention of all Mormons, young or old.

And I’m inspired to try my hand at writing my own version, a translation or something of Adam’s work, so we’ll see how that works and comes together.

Way Below the Angels by Craig HarlineWay Below the Angels: The Pretty Clearly Troubled But Not Even Close to Tragic Confessions of a Real Live Mormon Missionary, by Craig Harline. 4 stars

An excellent read for those familiar with Mormon missionary service and resonant with much of my own experience though Harline and I are quite different dispositionally. Also I’d say great preparation for those wanting to feel what a mission can feel like outside the trite (if still true in some sense) sayings we tend to fall back on. There’s humor here alongside deep personal introspection and spiritual insight. Glad I finally gave this a read.

That We May Be One by Tom ChristoffersonThat We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Prespective on Faith & Family,
by Tom Christofferson. 4 stars

A lovely book. The theme and main message strikes me as being summarized by an idea expressed by Tom (as a recollection of something his parents said I believe), that we shouldn’t worry about living perfectly, but that our focus should be on loving perfectly. There’s a lot of love flowing out of this book, which is definitely to its benefit. I think it will be useful and comforting and touching for LGBTQ+ Mormons, but is probably even more needed for the families of those members. Tom’s insistence on this being only his path and not necessarily the path for everyone is wise and good–there’s an empathy for alternative perspectives and experiences throughout the book, while Tom maintains his hope that we can make a space for LGBTQ+ Mormons in the pews with us. I found particularly good Tom’s discussion of how every LGBTQ+ Mormon will need to find an answer to the question of whether God would require something of them that He/She/They does not require of anyone else. Tom notes that he has found such an answer, but refuses to state it, reminding the reader that they need to find their own answer (and avoiding the unfair and well-intentioned weaponization of his answer against other LGBTQ+ Mormons). It also seemed needed to have the open discussion of the pain of every option currently available to LGBTQ+ Mormons (namely celibacy, a mixed-orientation marriage (which he speaks strongly about the dangers of), & pursuing a same-sex marriage outside of Mormonism). Anyway, the book is filled with love and compassion. Strongly recommend.

Mother's Milk by Rachel Hunt SteenblikMother’s Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother
by Rachel Hunt Steenblik (author) and Ashley Mae Hoiland (Illustrator). 5 stars

A beautiful, poignant collection of poems. Frequently brought tears to my eyes with its longing and reaching for Heavenly Mother and the divine feminine. There’s a personal and intimate connection with the divine present here that may not always be what my connection is or hopes to be, but is unabashedly Rachel’s, modeling one path to strive towards the divine feminine. Ashmae’s illustrations are a perfect accompaniment for Rachel’s poetry—close, intimate, personal, and snuggly (you can almost cuddle up with them). The poems are brief snapshots, capturing moments and reworking familiar phrases, narratives, verses, ideas to include or focus on Heavenly Mother. I’m left hungry for more. I want to create & find my own connection to Heavenly Mother, to write my way there. Rachel gave me a delicious taste of that possibility here.

Third Wheel by Melissa Lelani LarsonThird Wheel: Peculiar Stories of Mormon Women in Love, by Melissa Leilani Larson. 5 stars

Two plays by Larson are contained in the book: Little Happy Secrets & Pilot Program. Both are a delightful mix of humor and heartache—making me vacillate between stifling laughter and holding back tears from streaming down my face as I read on the Chunnel yesterday.

LHS is grounded in reality, focusing on a woman, Claire, returned from her mission and in love with her best friend and roommate, Brennan, who starts dating a dude Claire doesn’t care for. Powerful stuff.

PP is subtitled ‘a supposition’ and delves into the speculative. Focusing on Abigail, a married woman who has been invited with her husband to help bring polygamy back. A fascinating thought experiment that feels real emotionally.

Both plays avoid easy answers and are deeply deeply human. Pick this up ASAP and cruise through it.

Featured photo by Radu Marcusu

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