Monday, March 14, 2011

Mormon Lit

I've avoided reading Mormon Lit for years because I have this preconception that it's poorly written and poorly edited.

But we got a bunch of Mormon Middle Grade books for Christmas, so I sat down to read to the kids tonight and picked one out. Sounded like a fun adventure

We've only read two chapters so far, and I don't want to offend the author so I won't mention the title or the author's name, but I've noticed a few things:

The writing is klunky. It's not fluid, beautiful, or even particularly easy to read. And it's downright hard to read out loud. (Note to self: read novel out loud before you start querying it....)

The characters are not charming, even though the author clearly thinks they are. Some of the stuff they do is hard to read. All of it is hard to visualize. We're too much in the character's head, and he isn't thinking about anything that rings true for that age of kid or that is interesting enough to make me like him. (Note to self: check for that....).

I might be surprised as we go on (since we're only 2 chapters in), but I think this is going to be a very predictable book. Already on chapter 2, every one of us (me, 9yo, 7yo, and 5 yo) all are pretty sure we've figured out the whole story already. What is there to keep us reading? Just to see if we're right?

The comedy isn't funny. At least, I think it's supposed to be comedy.... Perhaps the drama IS funny? It falls in a gap that's supposed to be Beverly Cleary-like accessible, but is just not really very authentic. To anything.

There is too much gratuitous use of the "M" word--Mormon. If it doesn't even matter what books are on the table, why are you mentioning that it's Mormon History? Especially when in the next chapter, you mention it's math. It's not that it's bad that the main character is Mormon--MY main characters are all Mormons, too. It's that when you "name drop" the religions name, it makes it look like you're trying to make people think it's a good book just because you put the word "mormon" in it. Like you're screaming, "See? I'm one of you!" Mostly, though, it's not EVER mentioning mormonism that's bad. It's when the word is tossed in too much, like swearing that serves no purpose in the story. It's gratuitous. The rule seems to apply here: if it's not furthering the story, leave it out. Trust your readers to get it without throwing it in their faces. Even if they're 11 years old.

Also, an "older teenager" is not "thirteen or fourteen years old." Even to an 11 year old.

And, finally, the biggest "bother" of them all: the author mentioned his church calling in his bio. WHAT?! I don't care if you've been a bishop or you've only ever stood at the door to hand out programs. What does that have to do with anything? If you have been a bishop or Relief Society president, does that help you sell books? It shouldn't. The result was the opposite of what I'm sure the author intended. Instead of me thinking, "Oh, this is legit Mormon literature because this guy is a righteous active member," I thought, "I can't trust anything he says because he's using his calling to gain stature in the world, to sell books, and to advertise his righteousness. In other words, this person is full of pride instead of service. Therefore, I cannot trust him." I doubt that's true, actually. He's probably a good guy. I hope. (Note to self: even when marketing to a religious audience, don't sell your religion. It's tacky.)

Oh, we'll finish the book. I've read worse. Much worse. At least I'm pretty sure it's clean, possibly to a fault. But my 5 and 7 year olds are reading it, so clean to a fault is just fine with me. And a story doesn't have to be authentic to be entertaining. I just hope we get to the entertaining part!

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