Kathryn Jacobs Palmer
Linda Paulson Adams
Aspen Books (Murray, UT), 1997.
Suggested retail price: $8.95 (US)
The first thing that I want to say about this book is that I honestlyenjoyed reading it. Kathryn Palmer has a good writing voice that willappeal to teens (more especially young women than young men, though,because this is a romance novel of sorts), as well as adults.
This is necessary in a book such as this one, which is aimed directly andspecifically towards LDS young women. This is her first book, and I thinkshe has done very well with it. It was engaging to read; I had to keepturning the pages to find out what would happen next, and stayed up late tofinish it the same day I received it. (It's 182 pages, and I read fast. Ittook me about six hours reading time start to finish.)
This is the story of Lindsay and Andrew, an LDS girl from rural Idaho and anon-member boy who is new to her area. They meet at tryouts for the highschool's production of Oklahoma, and both land the starring roles in theplay. The summary in the Library of Congress Publication Data in the frontof the book reads as follows: "Having introduced her boyfriend Andrew tothe Mormon Church, sixteen-year-old Lindsay feels horror and remorse whentheir loving relationship goes beyond the point of no return and theyviolate God's law of chastity."
This summary is accurate.
The unfortunate thing is that from the cover and inside front page withthat summary spelled out (before one even reaches the first chapter), thisbook has the look and feel of a book that is setting out to "Teach aLesson." Personally, I found this discouraging. I won't go on about thisissue more, since I've already complained recently about covers in the LDSpublishing industry. I do feel that if had more of the look of a teenromance novel (which it is, all value-teaching aspects aside for themoment), with the "I Am A Values Book" proclamation much more subdued, moreYW readers might be drawn to it.
Sister Palmer weaves a good story, with plenty of interesting detail,believable characters and dialogue. She also makes use of some fascinatingirony, which is one of the book's strongest points. Without the irony theplot might have been overly predictable, but it was not. She continues totwist and complicate things, beginning with the situation that the"Mistake" happens while her boyfriend is taking the missionary discussionsand committing to baptism.
There are also several supporting characters in the plot, made up ofLindsay's best friends, teachers, family, and peer group, which add to thefun of reading this story. Palmer includes many visual details which makeit easy for the reader to get a good concept of what her characters lookand sound like. These things are one of the key characteristics of a goodyoung adult novel. While keeping her descriptions to a minimum, so thatthe text does not drag with a load of hard-to-digest details, she is ableto pick up one or two key elements and describe them in ways that creatememorable visual images.
The dialogue also flows well for the most part, with a realistic quality toit. The characters speak to each other as real people do. The teenagerssound like teenagers, and the parents sound like parents. This also madethe book easy and enjoyable to read.
Here is The Scene of the Big Mistake, pages 56-7 (.& .& . since I was curioushow she would handle this, I am sure you all are too). This is after theChristmas Formal when the two of them have gone home to Andrew's house,alone, to watch a movie:
& & & & "Lindsay," [Andrew] said, "I've been wanting to tell you something. .& .& ."
& & & & "I just want you to know that if it wasn't for you, I never wouldhave learned about the Church, and I probably would have lived my wholelife not knowing what life was for. You see what I mean? You made thedifference. All the good things that happen to me from now on will bebecause of you." He was starting to get very emotional and gripped herarms. "I love you so much! I really wanted you to know what you've donefor me! I love you." He said the last three words very gently.
& & & & Lindsay was overcome with a rush of emotion. She couldn't speak, so shejust turned part-way aroud and tilted her head up to be kissed. Somethingwas different, she could tell as soon as they touched, but she didn't allowherself to think about it. We love each other, we love each other,played over and over in her mind, and that was all. In later years, whenshe looked back on that night, she would wonder at how she had been able toturn off her thoughts so completely and simply let herself feel. It was amistake she would never make again.
I will admit that while reading this paragraph I knew they were doingsomething amiss, but I didn't realize it was "the scene" until the nextchapter, when Lindsay slips home at 1:30 amand almost immediately throws up, feeling horrible about "what justhappened." It's obvious from there on out from context. I've includedthis passage here because I felt it was just a bit too vague. I thinkour youth of today can handle a little more detail than that.
Understandably, in a book marketed to go along with the YW Values program,explicit detail would be unwanted and unnecessary. But I think somethingthat would clue the reader in just a little better would not be out ofline. As a married, experienced adult I assumed they were just going "toofar" in this scene (until the page turn .& .& . "Oh. That was it?".) Maybeit's enough. I don't know. The intended audience is certainly animportant consideration here. Too much detail would also be uncalled for,and parents wouldn't want their daughters reading it then, either.
There is also very little detail previous to this scene in the book thatexplains that they are breaking the rules and have already been makingother mistakes, so this scene came as a surprise to me. It was hard tobelieve they went that far all in one night. There's a reference or twothat she thinks they spend a lot of time "making out," but that's aboutall. Later on, during her confession, it becomes clear that there were"danger" signs she had ignored, but they are only mentioned afterwards, notbefore.
Her bishop tells her (page 94):
& & & & "I have a hard time believing that youand this young man decided to have sex in the middle of a completely chasterelationship."
& & & & .& .& . "Oh." Lindsay flushed scarlet. "You mean making out and .& .& . otherthings?"
& & & & "That's what I mean. Making out, petting, whatever. It's not a separateissue."
& & & & "I guess I thought maybe that stuff wasn't the best but that it wasn'treally a big deal, either," Lindsay said uncomfortably.
& & & & "It is a big deal; it's a part of fornication," [the bishopcontinues.]
Since this is a book intended to teach about choices and theirconsequences, I felt that more attention should have been given to thosedanger signs. (And, needless to say, this passage is vague as well.) Thestory concentrates most on what happens afterward; the consequences andeffects of Lindsay's and Andrew's sin. This is also one of the strengthsof the book, since the author doesn't dwell overly much on the "how," buton what happens to her protagonist after she makes this painful choice. This is the "Accountability" part, and it makes up the main conflict ofthis work. However, the "Choice" part of this YW Value is equallyimportant. Just a few more well-placed, carefully chosen details mighthave fixed this problem completely. I mention this because I think it'svery important for youth to understand that those "smaller" mistakes area big deal (as her bishop states above), and lead them gradually down thesame road Lindsay traveled. This is one spot where the "telling" method isused instead of "showing," and the novel is far less effective than itmight have been otherwise, both as a teaching tool and as a storytellingdevice.
There's also a common but mistaken perception among many LDS (moreespecially among LDS women) that sex is dirty and shameful; that beforemarriage it's vile, afterwards it's something to be endured rather thanenjoyed. There is one paragraph in the book that describes how Lindsayfeels about the actual act (page 69): "To her bewilderment, the act itselfhad stripped the sweet sensation away and left nothing but emptiness andugliness in its place. That wasn't what it was supposed to be like. According to all her fantasies, it was supposed to be the blissful,romantic, almost spiritual culmination of their love for each other, andinstead it had turned out to be nothing but a great big lie." There isnothing anywhere else in the book that suggests that it was a lie becauseof the utter inappropriateness of their actions, or that it was empty andugly only because they were not married partners. There is nothing toldto her by anyone (parents, bishop, or leaders) that explains that yes,within marriage, sex can be blissful, romantic, and very spiritual. Ithink this point ought to have been made, and clearly. Again, this is notso much because the story itself was flawed, but because of theimplications that might rub off on the youth who read it.
I believe the book does succeed in portraying a realistic experience withrepentance. I think that the details of standard church discipline forthis sort of moral offense (first time/one time) are accurate. (She is puton temporary probation and instructed to read The Miracle ofForgiveness.) Lindsay goes through a terrible emotional roller coaster. It's not emotionally easy; it is painful. All of her friends noticesomething is wrong, but since they attribute her moodiness to her suddenbreakup with Andrew, (not the reasons behind the breakup,) she hasvirtually no one to turn to. It doesn't help her any that she still has toface Andrew every day during play rehearsals, which is yet another ironicplot twist. The remaining two-thirds of the story follow her through therepentance process, from confession to forgiveness, a period of severalmonths. She learns about the meaning of forgiving both herself and Andrewand the power of the Atonement to heal.
Not too long after the "event," she realizes her period is late andexperiences stress over whether or not she is pregnant. After a stressfuland secretive pregnancy test, she finds that she isn't. This is one of themore powerful and memorable scenes in the book; she drives to a desertedpublic restroom at a park to conduct the test and wait out the agonizingthree minutes for the result. The test is negative, and she feelsrelieved. As I read this section, though, I was secretly hoping that shewould be pregnant. (Don't get me wrong here -- I'm not like that with realpeople in real life!) I just felt, considering that this is a novel aboutchoices and one's accountability for those choices, that having the girldeal with pregnancy -- a REAL and natural consequence of having sex(especially without birth control), would have been a major breakthroughfor LDS fiction. Plus, in a way I wanted it to be harder for her than itwas. I wanted her to have some harder decisions to make -- whether or not tomarry Andrew; whether or not to keep the baby or give it up for adoption. Instead of feeling the protagonist's relief that she wasn't pregnant, Ifelt a little let down that the book wasn't going to deal with thoseissues. (The hardest decision she had to make as a result of her actionswas whether or not she should keep her lead in the musical, since it was sohard for her to be around Andrew anymore.)
All in all, I feel this is a book definitely worth reading, and I wouldrecommend it. I think it's a good and well-told story, in spite of itsoccasional vagueness in places, and it should definitely appeal to LDSyoung women. I'd like it better if the book's established purpose (ofdemonstrating "Choice and Accountability" in a work of fiction, and printedall over the cover) were more muted, so that one doesn't open the book withthe feeling that this book is supposed to Teach One Something. Also, witha book such as this, which begs for morals to be drawn from it (because ofits placement in the official Values for Young Women fiction series), thelesson that is being taught also deserves evaluation. I am not sure itsucceeds on all points here; however, that is a separate issue from bothits literary success and the author's skill.
Even so, I think that any LDS fiction that's at least this frank on whatthe repentance process is like (for this problem, anyway) is a landmark. This is the only LDS book I have read which deals with this subject at all,and her openness on the subject is to be praised. I hope that this bookwill open the door for future LDS novels that also deal with this issue.
I think Kathryn Palmer has a strong writing voice and a definite talent forstorytelling that will easily attract young adult readers. I hope she willcontinue writing more books -- I would be glad to read them! With this bookshe has demonstrated an ability to tackle some challenging issues withoutbeing "fluffy" or candy-coating them. The subject matter is not an easyone to begin with, and I felt she handled it in a solid, realistic manner,with honest and believable characters that young people will be able toidentify with and understand.
Linda Adams lt;firstname.lastname@example.org;
© 1997 Linda Adams