ALA GLBTRT Review of No Going Back

Every couple of days, I google “Jonathan Langford No Going Back” just to see what’s out there. It’s kind of a game to see if I can locate something that Google Alert hasn’t already told Chris Bigelow (my publisher) about. Usually I don’t find anything. But today there was a link to a review in the Spring 2010 GLBTRT Newsletter, a publication of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered Round Table of the American Library Association. Here’s what it said:

Mormon YA literature has come a long way with the publication of No Going Back. Many novels written for the Mormon audience are designed to be, first, faithpromoting. In No Going Back, we have a more realistic novel.

Paul, 15, comes out to his best friend, his bishop, and finally his mother. His life is complicated by the members of the Gay Straight Alliance at his school (who expect him to be true to himself as a gay teen), navigating the expectations of his church that he remain celibate, and dealing with a political campaign to limit gay rights, in which members of his congregation are actively participating.

There is much to admire in No Going Back, given its intended audience. There is frank discussion of teen sexual issues, a great portrayal of friendship when Paul’s friend Chad sticks by him after he comes out (despite pressure from some church members and peer pressure at school), and an honest examination of the pressures on family life that church members often go through. These types of issues are rarely seen in what is intended as popular fiction for a church audience. While they are common in mainstream YA literature, they are new in this market.

Some readers will be disappointed in Paul’s decision to put the church first. But it is an appropriate ending for the market for which No Going Back is intended. As a matter of full disclosure, I am a former Mormon who chose the same path as Paul for many years. So, while reading, I understood what is happening here, and why. But a huge issue for non-Mormon readers will be the total lack of explanation of the Mormon world. Church jargon, organization, and theology are presented in a way that will be clear to the intended reader, but will not be clear to others, since the author assumes reader familiarity. If not for the unexplained Mormon terminology, this book might have had a broader market for other conservative faiths.

So, what should librarians do with No Going Back? Just as we fight for LGBT YA books to be in our libraries, so that LGBT youth can find themselves and their lives on the shelves, we should consider material that suggests to youth another choice, so that those who decide to choose faith will also find themselves there. Libraries located in communities or states where there is a sizable Mormon population should consider this book.

Reviewed by: Dave Combe

EP Foster Library

Ventura, CA

Back to Jonathan: This review raises several interesting issues, which I’d like to write about more at some other time. First, there’s the matter of marketing to libraries, which is something I’m still figuring out. There’s the question of whether or not No Going Back is a young adult novel, which I think may vary depending in part on whether it’s considered in a Mormon context. And there’s the question of how much translation is needed for non-Mormon readers. My original assumptions were much like Dave Combe’s as described here, but actual feedback from non-Mormon readers has suggested that they don’t have as much trouble following the story as I had expected (see my earlier blog post, Writing Mormon Literature for a non-Mormon Audience). For right now, though, I’m basking in the glow of a positive review.

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4 Responses to “ALA GLBTRT Review of No Going Back”

  1. Rex says:

    Well, that is a refreshing point of view for the librarian. At least let all sides be told.

    • Jonathan says:

      Yes. I’ve been pleased to receive several responses like this which, while not necessarily agreeing with Paul’s choice, nevertheless seem to respect it and feel that his experience is worth representing.

  2. LauraN says:

    That is really a very good and balanced review. I will start by admitting a certain bias against the GLBTRT. When I used to belong to the ALA, there was a period when there was a very vocal group that wanted to use the magazine American Libraries to represent the huge number of GLBT librarians (although when you read the articles or looked at the photos carefully, it was obvious that they were trying to make a small group look like a very large one.) It got boring and had nothing really to do with providing information to people. A discussion of GLBT LITERATURE on the other hand, makes a lot of sense.The real question is how to connect the right reader with the right book, even if it’s not the librarian’s favorite book. (There are limitations, of course, as providing books on bombmaking to terrorists seems pretty dumb. Librarians sit around and argue about things like that.)

    The reviewer is correct that there is now a body of young adult literature addressing GLBT topics–but that they are pretty much one-sided. After years of telling gay teens what they must reject, now the literature is offering no choice but to dive in. No Going Back is radical in that it shows someone making a currently unpopular choice. And librarians are all about giving voice to those unpopular choices.

    Does the book use too much Mormon jargon? I don’t know, but the reviewer admitted to being a former Mormon. It seems to be the mormons who are concerned, not the other readers who seem to be smarter than they’re being given credit for. My daughter recently had an unpleasant experience where a young man, as a prank, put two raw eggs in her bookbag. She arrived at school and discovered raw egg all over her books, so she called me, and before leaving, we had a talk with the assistant principal. I explained that the eggs had been placed in her bag at an early morning religion class at our church. The vice principal said, “So, he put the eggs in your bag during seminary?” He’s the vice principal. He knows what his kids are doing–both those smoking and doing drugs, and those who compulsively attend church. I don’t think that’s such a big deal.

    Is it a YA novel? Personally, I think so. I go through a lot of YA novels. I try to pick up all the new ones, and I confess the sometimes flipping through and reading the “worst” bits just to get a feel for them. While this book might not be what the average seminary teacher would recommend (but a big improvement over the recommendantion of a certain current seminary teacher, but that’s a different issue) it is certainly no more graphic or explicit than a lot of what is out there, and it’s a whole lot less boring. (Disgusting stuff gets boring really fast. Sorry folks.) I will admit that my two teenaged daughters haven’t read it–but that is due to their lack of interest in adolescent boys unless they happen to have magic wands or fly victorian era space ships. Once again I will suggest that if you want to draw in the teenage girl audience you must add either a pony or a vampire (or a vampire pony?)

  3. Ann Best says:

    Jonathan, haven’t talked to your for quite a while. So glad for this review. It’s excellent. I guess you could call it a YA novel. Yes, I think that’s the genre. But of course adults find it compelling also. Step by step it’s getting out there. Yay! My own book is “in editing” with WiDo. Supposed to come out this summer. But my blog is doing great. I have 114 official followers after only 2 1/2 months. And blogging on Blogger is great fun. I just have to be careful that I don’t let it take over my entire day so I don’t get any writing done!!

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