Wednesday, March 23, 2011

No Going Back by Jonathan Langford

No Going Back by Jonathan Langford
2009; Zarahemla Books

-I received a copy of this book free from the author for review.

Summary

A gay teenage Mormon growing up in western Oregon in 2003. His straight best friend. Their parents. A typical LDS ward, a high-school club about tolerance for gays, and a proposed anti-gay-marriage amendment to the state constitution. In No Going Back, these elements combine in a coming-of-age story about faithfulness and friendship, temptation and redemption, tough choices and conflicting loyalties. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

No Going Back is a brutal, raw, honest look at the difficulties faced by a gay Mormon teenager. Paul is a great kid. Quiet, obedient, a little nerdy, funny. He's the kind of kid that parents hold up as an example. He is an active member of the Mormon church. When he realizes that he's gay, he is faced with a truly horrible choice. Rightly or wrongly, you cannot be actively gay and be an upstanding member of the LDS church. Paul knows he's gay, but he also fervently believes in the tenets of the LDS church. Paul either has to deny his body or deny his soul.

Paul is the main character of this novel, but Paul's mother, best friend Chad, and Chad's parents also feature strongly in the book. The story is told from their alternating points of view. Paul slowly comes out to each of these characters. I enjoyed seeing how each reacted. It felt very real to me. Some were okay with it and some were horrified. All adjusted, but things were different.

I loved the interaction between Paul and Chad. This story is told largely through dialogue. I'm obviously not a teenage boy, but I think Mr. Langford perfectly captured a 15-year-old boy's voice. Reading about Paul, Chad, and their other friends hanging out whether at home or school was truly enjoyable. I loved how Paul and Chad messed with each other, trading barbs back and forth. It added bits of humor to an otherwise serious book. It also allowed them to discuss difficult issues, albeit in the uncomfortable, halting way that boys and men often do.

One of my favorite things about this book was that no viewpoint was glorified. We see various members of the LDS community exhibit homophobic behavior, but others who love and accept Paul unconditionally. Paul's friends in the Gay-Straight Alliance at school challenge him to accept being gay, yet have difficulty accepting Paul's beliefs as a Mormon. Neither group was immune from prejudice. I also didn't feel like I was being preached to. Considering that the characters' religious beliefs were frequently discussed, that's really saying something.

I have a few quibbles with the book, but nothing that makes it worth skipping. The plot was set around the 2003-04 Oregon gay marriage vote. I felt like not enough was done with that time frame. It was introduced but not fully explored. I also thought Sandy's (Chad's mom) story of personal discover, while interesting, did not contribute much to the novel.

My only real concern with this book is not a criticism. Rather, it's the inherent difficulty at marketing this novel. First, it's not really a young adult or an adult novel. The story is told from the viewpoints of adults and kids. The adult perspective was interesting to me, but I wonder if teens would be bored. Second, No Going Back is a very Mormon book. The LDS Church has its own culture with a unique vocabulary and events. No Going Back doesn't provide a glossary or explanation for things like seminary, a testimony, passing the sacrament, etc. If you're already familiar with the Church, this is great. You don't have to waste your time reading about things you already know. If you don't know much about the Church, it might be like diving into the deep end of the pool. However, I have read numerous reviews written by non-Mormons who didn't seem to have a problem with the cultural aspects. So maybe it's not that big a deal. I think this book is targeted toward a Mormon audience. People who would like it are probably fairly liberal Mormons - those who don't mind liberal use of cursing and having to consider ideas with which they might disagree.

I really enjoyed No Going Back. It deals with a very difficult issue that a lot of people have to face. It doesn't sugar-coat anything. There are no easy choices and no easy answers. There are no heroes and there are no villains. There are just a group of people trying to be good people, be true to themselves, and true to their beliefs and the aftermath when these things conflict.

Rating: 4 / 5

17 comments:

  1. Wow! What an amazing review! I read quite a lot of LGBT fiction and to be honest, it's not all that easy to find a good book in this genre. They either tend to be on the sexual side or overly whiny and super dramatic opposite of the spectrum. This book sounds really good, the way you describe it, I think I would enjoy it a lot. Thanks for bringing in to my attention, i will check it out! :)

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  2. fantastic review! it doesn't sound like my cup of tea but interesting sounding book nonetheless.

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  3. Great review. It may be a little too intense for me, but I may give it a try anyway.

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  4. Excellent review, Alison! You've definitely piqued my interest for this novel.

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  5. I've not heard of this book, but I think I'll be adding it to my Shelfari list. Although I'm a tad hesitant because, as Alexis said, it sounds rather intense! Especially as I know next to nothing about the Church or Mormons. I'll have a think :)

    Thank you for the great review!

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  6. Great review! Although this is not my type of read, it does sound good.

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  7. Fabulous review, Alison! I read this a while back, and I was blown away by the content of the story. Having lived in Utah for four + years, it was a real eye-opener into the culture without being condemning of a singular side of the story. :)

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  8. Thanks for a very thoughtful review. Like you, I've been somewhat surprised (though also pleased) at the number of non-Mormon readers who didn't seem to have any problem with the Mormon content. My favorite line from your review: "It also allowed them to discuss difficult issues, albeit in the uncomfortable, halting way that boys and men often do." That was *exactly* the effect I was hoping to achieve.

    I should also assure everyone that while Paul and Chad are both Boy Scouts, there are few if any references to tents in the novel. Wait, people were talking about it being "intense," not "in tents"... (Sorry. The pun jumped into my brain and, well...)

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  9. Wow, what a fabulous and thorough review Alison! The characters in this one sound amazing, and I love how you said no one viewpoint is overly glorified but rather there are people who both accept and deny who Paul is as would be the case in reality. Thanks for your thoughts on this one, I really enjoyed reading them:)

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  10. Fantastic write-up. I don't think that this is going to be a book for me but I did enjoy reading your thoughts on it.

    Jules

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  11. Excellent and thorough review, Alison. The characters and themes of this book sound fabulous. I loved how this book seems to have a balance- no one is a hero nor a villain, which is especially hard to do when you talk about religion where there is a predominant "Us vs. Them" mentality. I'll definitely be on the lookout for this one. Thank you!

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  12. Alison, I have to say, I really love reviews like this. Ones that provide a thorough critical analysis! You are really calling out to the geek in me.

    "Paul either has to deny his body or deny his soul." <<<<-- Powerful, thought provoking line. Certainly, what appeals to me the most is that there is no glorified side to choose. How can there be when you are dealing with 'real' people who care for and love one another? I appreciate when RL issues are explored in encouraging or at least safe way.

    I've been looking forward to reading this book for a while now.

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  13. This sounds like a great LGBT novel. It's a shame about the unexplained terminology though because I really don't know anything about the Mormon religion.

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  14. It sounds like an interesting book. I'm actually attracted by the idea of adult and teen viewpoints--that doesn't happen much, and I love it when authors try something different.

    Thank you for the review!

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  15. Really an interesting book...Great Review!

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  16. I've seen this book around. It looks like it would be an intense but interesting read. I like the idea of the different viewpoints. Fab review!

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  17. I saw this on your "2011 Book Lists, Part 3" and was intrigued. This sounds really interesting, maybe not for my school library, but for my own enjoyment. My other job is with the Boy Scouts (another organization with anti-gay leanings), with a Mormon boss.

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