Friday, April 9, 2010

Keep Sweet

Alva Jane is a 14 year old girl in a fundamentalist sect in southern Utah. The prophet is thinly veiled as Uncle Kenton (insert Warren or Rulon). She is the oldest daughter of her father's fourth, and currently, favorite wife. As she comes of age she is excited about the possibility of becoming celestial with her husband, certain it will be one of her choosing.

The story is well developed and explores the culture and doctrine of the FLDS church. Alva Jane quickly realizes how much power the brethren hold and how petty jealousies can quickly change a woman's life. Copious research is evident throughout the book and seamlessly woven into the story. Child brides, sexual, physical and emotional abuse, spiritual abuse, and the idiosyncrasies of fundamental latter day saint doctrine brushes dangerously close to reality.

The story of Alva Jane is clearly a patchwork of other women who have escaped polygamy. Although it is evident that Alva Jane wanted and needed to escape, the author also provides compelling reasons why others choose to stay.

I found the book haunting yet not unhappy. Although the author does not go so far as to use the story as a soap box, she clearly writes the book as an educational tool and, indirectly, seems to plead to the local law enforcement to do more to help those within the community.

This is an uncomfortable book to read for a mainstream Mormon. It's like the creepy uncle you wish wouldn't come to your family reunions or the cousin you just don't like but you have to play with him whenever he comes over to visit. You want to ignore them but they don't go away. That's how the vast majority of mainstream Mormons feel about polygamy. As much as it makes our skin crawl and as much as we want to deny the implications, it is still part of our church history.

I do wish the difference between FLDS and LDS churches were more delineated as they are very different. I did also find a couple of episodes that within the book that seems improbable and may be confused with mainstream LDS culture.
1) The FLDS do not actively proselyte thus it is unlikely that Alva Jane's love interest would serve a mission.
2) It is unlikely (although not impossible) that members of the FLDS church would attend Brigham Young University, a private LDS university. The school is subsidized by member tithes thus, members pay less tuition. FLDS members would not enjoy this benefit and would pay non-member tuition which is considerably more. With Southern Utah University within a short drive of "Short Creek," most who are chosen to further their education are sent to Cedar City for a bachelor's degree. They are not an uncommon sight at both Dixie State and SUU. I have never seen an FLDS member at BYU.

Even though I still don't like the creepy uncle, I appreciate the book and the writing style. I found the story compelling and the research well articulated. I appreciated the objective point of view Michelle used which allows the reader to make her own determinations of Alva Jane and her choices.

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