So first of all, I won Diary of a Single Mormon Female as part of a contest over at Modern Mormon Men, and got a copy signed by the author, so thanks Aleesa! (I feel like we're on a first name basis after reading this. After all, I was basically reading her journals. We have to be pretty tight after that.) I was really excited to read this because I was expecting it to address a lot of the cultural issues of the Church, such as pushing marriage onto people and treating single adults as second thoughts. I was not disappointed on that count at all. I think Aleesa did a fabulous job demonstrating how harmful some aspects of Church culture can be.
I think the beginning of the book is a little slow. Part of this is because I didn't really need explanations of Johnny Lingo and fasting, seeing how I also grew up LDS. Those sections do make me wonder who the intended audience of this memoir is, or if her editor made her include it. (Who published this book? Did Aleesa do it herself? Wow, that's impressive.)
I also just didn't find her earlier journal entries that entertaining. I think part of the problem is that I feel like my experience literally mirrored hers. I absolutely had church boys that I had crushes on, and our relationships consisted entirely of my daydreams and the very minor interactions we had, which I would blow out of proportion. (Unlike Aleesa, I actually married my Jon ... Yup, I would totally stare at 12-year-old Colby as he passed the sacrament. Then write about it in my journals. Which I still have, and were a huge source of entertainment to my family after I got engaged to him.) It's an interesting phenomenon, and I'd like to see how many women who grew up in the Church have experienced something similar.
It definitely picked up for me after Aleesa turned 16-17 and actually started to date. Those experiences began to be different than mine. I'll try not to give any spoilers away here, but I was fascinated and horrified by who she was when she was going to BYU. I loved watching her grow, step-by-step, until she was the person at the end of the book. And I loved the end of the book. My favorite line is
"Church culture seems to dictate that life's trials can be discussed only in the past tense, hand in hand with the feel-good declaration that everything ended up working out just fine. Most people are very uncomfortable acknowledging doubt, anger, grief, despair or any of the other, less sparkly emotions. The injuction Christ gave his disciples to "be of good cheer" has been interpreted by many as the only legitimate state of being for a Mormon at any time - hence robust sales of Prozac in Utah" (218).Emphasis is mine. I just feel like that's a really true part of the Church culture. We somehow are afraid of acknowledge doubt, even though you cannot have faith without questioning things.
So even though Aleesa's trials in this context revolve around being single and I am now married, I can still really relate to her emotions at the conclusion of this book. I think they are universal, despite her specific context. While I found the duration of this memoir entertaining and informative, it was the ending that really spoke to me.
Your book club
- When did you start noticing boys? Were they boys from Church? Did you write about them in your journal?
- How did Aleesa's religious beliefs affect her interactions and attitudes towards boys? Have you had similar experiences with church lessons that revolve around future companions? Have you had any experiences with marriage being taught in different ways or frequencies to the teenage girls than the boys?
- What do you think of Aleesa's time at BYU? What was her outlook and attitude like during that entire experience? Do you think that outlook/attitude is common (especially among BYU students)? How did she describe the men in her life? What do you think, if anything, went wrong? Did you see any sort of pattern or similarities between all of her crushes (other than them not working out)? Do you think Aleesa's attitudes affected her dating life? In what ways did Aleesa grow during her time at BYU?
- What do you think about Aleesa's relationship with Hugh (her first boyfriend)? Have you had a similar type of relationship?
- Aleesa frequently talks about "potential" with the men she has a crush on. Is this outlook on dating normal or unusual? Do you ever think that way? Do you think it's an effective method? (Read the first paragraph on page 137 about Sam.)
- On pages 141-142, Aleesa and her friends start discussing sex. Does her experience of learning about sex reflect yours? Do you agree with her about the ways she wishes the topic of sex was taught?
- On page 171, Aleesa comments that some of the teachings of the Church on dating can be contradictory and confusing. Do you agree? What are some things you'd like to see changed?
- How does Aleesa represent the men of the LDS church? Do you feel this is a fair representation?
- Aleesa sticks to her standard of only wanting to marry LDS men, even though it meant giving up Boris and Amir. What do you think of this decision? Do you think things would've worked out between her and one of those men? Do you think she was being foolish and narrow-minded or strong and uncompromising (or maybe even a little of both)?
- Do you agree with Aleesa's assessment on the way Church culture often treats trials, such as in the quote above? Have you ever had similar feelings or feelings that you felt weren't as "kosher" in the Church? Is there anyone you can talk to about these types of feelings?
- BONUS QUESTION: If you are married, what are some better ways that you can interact with the single adults? What's something you can say other than "oh, you'll find someone some day"?
Yeah, sorry, I know that's a lot. The great thing about book clubs is that you get to pick and choose what you want to talk about! Some topics may not get a lot of response from the crowd, and some you may end up talking about for hours. Good luck! I hope you enjoyed Diary of a Single Mormon Female and any subsequent discussions!