I met Laura Stone at the 2017 RT convention after the book signing. She mentioned she had a podcast about her former faith, Mormonism, called “Oh My Heck.” I live near enough to the DC Mormon temple that Instagram keeps asking me to tag my pictures like I’m currently there. (I’m not, but there’s a pretty solid Pokestop in the parking lot.) So I was curious about her podcast, both because I have many Mormon neighbors, and learning about different faiths is fascinating for me. During one episode, Stone mentioned her new book, so I downloaded a sample, and once I started, I couldn’t stop reading.
Adam Young is in Barcelona for the first of his two years as a Mormon missionary. Due to a harsh, judgmental, and devout father who holds very high standards for his children, Adam is anxious about his performance on his mission. Anything short of perfection is failure for Adam, and he’s a little overwhelmed by the expectations. He is paired with Brandon Christenson, his mission companion – and according to the rules, they must stay together at all times except when they are bathing or otherwise using the bathroom. So they are around one another constantly.
In the beginning, Adam focuses on doing his very best to convert the Spaniards around him, and on living the devout, observant Mormon life his upbringing demands. He comes to admire Brandon deeply, because he’s warm and welcoming, and as the group leader for some of the missionaries in Barcelona, he takes care of everyone around him. Brandon exhibits a caring, nurturing masculinity that Adam has never witnessed, and he moves from resentment and shock to admiration and appreciation for Brandon’s leadership and fellowship style. Brandon leads with love and affection, not terror and strictness.
Brandon also begins questioning their beliefs, and the directives they receive from the church about converting others, proselytizing, and about daily habits and the standards expected of them as missionaries. Adam exists in a state of near panic about Brandon’s questions – which he is beginning to ask as well – because any questioning he brought to his father when he was a child was met with condemnation and humiliation in front of their entire church. Adam was taught in painful ways to never question the church or what he’s told to do. Obedience is faithfulness.
In contrast, Brandon’s parents are loving and welcoming, sending care packages that include Adam and his love for toffee bars, and answering Brandon’s letters with responses that take Brandon’s questions seriously, encouraging him to keep seeking the answers he needs. Adam is completely baffled by Brandon, by his family, by his loving example, and by how he can mix his devotion and belief with questioning and challenging, while maintaining contentment and joy, and the ability to care for others.
Brandon’s previous companion had been sent home due to illness, and when Brandon explains how his former companion’s fanaticism and over-dedication had risked alienating and offending their neighbors, Adam is unsure how to respond.
Young thought it was disloyal to talk about someone who wasn’t there to defend himself, someone who had to go home sick, someone who seemed to have tried anything they could to have a successful mission. Adam’s dad would expect him to knock on doors at lunch, cultural disrespect or not. “Aw, maybe he was all right. A little over-zealous, but isn’t that what we’re here for?”
Christensen looked him dead in the eye. “No. We’re here to learn more, ourselves. But mostly we’re here to try and spread some joy to the local people. We’re not here to freak them out and make them hate Mormons more than the rest of the world already does. If we bring some of them to the Gospel, that’s gravy.”
That shocking statement that seemed to go against everything he’d been taught sent another thrill through Adam.
Eventually, Adam realizes how attracted he is to Brandon, and that his admiration and respect were evolving into something else, something he couldn’t accept or even consider, due to his beliefs. The Mormon church and his own family were fiercely against homosexuality and Adam worries that his feelings for Brandon are a sign of his own sinfulness, of his unworthiness in every respect. Anxiety is a perpetual state for Adam, really, after being raised in an environment where he never measured up, was never good enough, and never treated with affection or care.
But of course Brandon is also attracted to Adam, and pretty quickly, the strength of their affection and desire overpower the religious doctrines that tell them everything that they’re thinking and doing is wrong and a terrible sin. They struggle to reconcile the messages of their religion about love and honor and the feelings they have for one another against the condemnation of their church and the policies and penalties for acting on their feelings. The trouble is, there is no way for them to be devout and practicing Mormons and be gay and happy together.
Their romance is complicated and emotionally staggering, with layers of internal and external tension. I loved the detailed explanation and portrayal of Brandon and Adam’s daily life as missionaries, how they practiced their faith and struggled with it and kept trying to be worthy of the expectations placed on them. There is a lot of detail here about Mormon observance.
Once the poo hits the air circulation device, however, the slow and painstaking tension built between and around Adam and Brandon becomes a plot that resolves very, very quickly. The ending was a little too fast for me – I wanted to know more about their future, what they’d do to move on with their lives, or what direction their faith might take. There is a lot that’s left open and unfinished, and while Brandon and Adam are safe, I wanted to know more about the foundation of their happiness, because it has to be constructed on entirely new ground. Very little of their upbringing and their lives up to that point remains accessible to them. I ended the book happy for them, but concerned for their mental health and well being, as well as for their futures. Also, only at the end does Brandon have chapters from his point of view, which was a little jarring, though I appreciated that he was as consistent as a point of view character as he was when being described by Adam.
I loved the way their romance included exploration of their faith, and their fearless examination of divine love as interpreted by their church vs described by the scriptures. Part of the anguish and tension is that there is no room for them inside the faith in which they were raised. Though their relationship and their joy in finding one another augments their faith in God instead of diminishing it, they can’t stay within the community in which they were raised. Because of the first 2/3 of the story, I know how devastating that would be for Adam and for Brandon; because the last 1/3 doesn’t fully balance their losses with a potentially happy future, I was left unsure and wanting more.
This book is available from:
And It Came to Pass by Laura Stone
May 18, 2017
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