Natalie Brown: Something novel for summer — books with authentic Latter-day Saint characters

Fictional figures in these five offerings will feel real to readers.

Clockwise from top left are "The History of Honey Spring" by Darin Cozzens, "City of Brick and Shadow" by Tim Wirkus, "Beyond the Mapped Stars" by Rosalyn Eves, "Sylvia" by Twila Newey and "Picnic in the Ruins" by Todd Robert Petersen

Odds are high that most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have never read a novel featuring a Latter-day Saint character that feels consistent with their experience.

Mainstream media portrayals of Latter-day Saints, such as Jon Krakauer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven” (2003) and its FX/Hulu series adaptation (2022), typically profit by presenting Latter-day Saints through the familiar stereotypes that Mormons are violent, naive, repressed or duplicitous. Offerings from church-owned Deseret Book tend toward the devotional and historical.

A wider publishing landscape, however, allows contemporary writers familiar with the church and its culture to depict the Latter-day Saint experience with page-turning nuance.

The Association for Mormon Letters (of which I am a board member) routinely reviews and identifies books with Latter-day Saint connections that are worth reading. These texts cannot receive the attention they deserve without the support of readers invested in sophisticated portrayals of Mormonism. As you assemble your summer reading list, consider adding a few of my favorite recent novels featuring Latter-day Saint characters.

Beyond the Mapped Stars” (2021)

By Rosalyn Eves | Knopf Books for Young Readers

Rosalyn Eves’ “Beyond the Mapped Stars” is a young adult novel with crossover adult appeal. This is a refreshing novel from a national press that does not write about Latter-day Saints using the dominant tropes critic Jaxon Washburn identities as “religious exit narrative and true crime.” Eves follows a 19th-century young woman from a polygamous household who wants to become an astronomer. She has her chance when she travels to Colorado for an eclipse, but first she must navigate tensions between cultural expectations and individual desires that will resonate with people of every background.

[Read a Q&A with novelist Rosalyn Eves about her book here.]

City of Brick and Shadow” (2014)

By Tim Wirkus | Tyrus Books

Tim Wirkus’ debut novel follows two missionaries through a Latin American neighborhood as they investigate the disappearance of a recent convert. Awarded the 2014 prize for Best Novel by the Association for Mormon Letters, this thriller takes a hard look at the potentially dangerous realities of missionary life and the mysteries that lie behind the lives of members whom we think we know.

Picnic in the Ruins” (2021)

By Todd Robert Petersen | Counterpoint

Todd Robert Petersen’s page-turning novel follows Princeton anthropology student Sophia Shephard as she becomes entangled in murder and antiquities theft surrounding a Native American site whose politics resemble Bears Ears National Monument. Petersen’s novel delivers thrills worthy of a blockbuster film while meditating on historic preservation, the National Park System, tourism and environmental stewardship. Latter-day Saint characters play supporting but refreshingly quotidian roles in this work.

Sylvia” (2020)

By Twila Newey | By Common Consent Press

Twila Newey’s lyrical book is the only novel I have read that captures my experience as a contemporary Latter-day Saint woman. I did not recognize the extent to which I felt unseen in literature until reading her text. Newey follows four sisters as they gather for their mother’s funeral and process the different paths they have chosen. The novel is worth reading for its stunning prose alone, but its ensemble cast allows it to depict the variety of women’s experiences within the church without reducing them to a representative type.

The History of Honey Spring: A Novel” (2022)

By Darin Cozzens | Zarahemla Books

Lovers of Western landscape and intergenerational dramas will savor dwelling in Darin Cozzens’ slow burn tale of local and family history. When Jim Ray returns from Vietnam, he is left a property in a rural Mormon town that is the subject of a long-standing dispute between former friends. As he farms the land with help from a retired attorney, he discovers secrets and finds healing.

(Courtesy) Natalie Brown, Salt Lake Tribune guest columnist

Natalie Brown is a writer, scholar, lawyer, mother and Latter-day Saint based in Boulder, Colo. She is writing in her personal capacity. Her views do not reflect those of the church or her employer. She also serves on the board of the Association for Mormon Letters.