Jerry Wonder is the hero of this hilarious coming-of-age novel. A 19-year-old Mormon missionary, Jerry leaves South Dakota to save souls in New Zealand for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Elder Wonder's path is fraught with challenge. He misses his girlfriend, Susan, who tried valiantly to seduce him before he left, but to his regret, he remained strong for both of them. Now, he worries he will lose her in his two-year absence. And he is flawed.
Against the strictures of the LDS church, he is a compulsive masturbator, or in Mormon parlance, a "self-pollinator". Jerry makes a solemn covenant with his Father in Heaven that each time he self-pollinates, he will find a soul for Jesus. After one month, he owes his Father in Heaven 40 converts. Elder Jerry Wonder also has difficulty developing his testimony - i.e. one's absolute belief in the absolute truth of the LDS faith.
Complicating his life is Elder Freight, a 20-year-old missionary who teaches him the finer points of converting heathens - when he is not breaking their bones. But he does bond with Brother Ormsby, a Maori who urges him to persist despite his doubts. When Elder Freight takes his life, Jerry is devastated, and he delves into the dark history of the church, learning that the founding polygamist prophets were often conmen, fortune hunters, or even murderers.
Salvation of a sort comes when Susan flies to his side. They will be expelled from the church and disgrace their families. But first, Jerry has to protect the mission president and his wife from church officials in Utah, something he manages with characteristic ingenuity. Within its comic frame, the novel is informative about the Mormon church. It also shows how older men try to stifle and control young men.
©2013 Jaron Summers (P)2016 Jaron Summers
Accurate on All Mormon beliefs and doctrines presented. I throughly enjoyed it and laughed the entire time. The narration could not be better! I recommend it highly!
I enjoyed this book; not exceptional but an easy "read". The story reveals the hypocrisy present in the Mormon religion (or any other for that matter) without being offensive to members of that religion....a fine balancing act. The performance is good but the reader uses English accents instead of sounding like a real Kiwi. Nevertheless, I think I would recommend it.
I'm only 2/3s of the way through this book and I am blown away. I love it! At first I laughed.......a lot. Now, I'm just amazed.
I enjoyed this book. I knew a fair bit about Mormons (the LDS - not the polygamous sect) from watching the amazing TV series BIG LOVE and also from reading several books by women who had virtually been held captive. What I didn't know was the process of the male "mission", where those well-ironed and shoe-shined young men prowl the streets of our neighbourhoods, trying to reap souls for an eternity in Mormon heaven. Once a young man reaches a certain age and passes tests regarding his "purity" , he must spend two years violating our "No Soliciting" signs and enduring ever increasing challenges to their belief system, just to capture at the door, souls for their treasure chests. At this point the men are "Priests" and Elders of the church. They are given ultimate control over women and must remain celibate during these two years.
This book's title is the spoiler, telling us that Elder Wonder will fail in his mission. However, I would never have read it if he hadn't failed. It is an innocence-to-experience story of Jeff Wonder, a true believer, sent to New Zealand from the US to fulfill his mission. He is a stranger in a strange land, which provides him an alien culture which allows him plenty of wiggle-room to see underlying oppression the church forces on them. The men are constantly interrogated by more elder elders about their sexuality. The questions,bizarre and pornographic, are ground out of the gravelly-voiced "dirty old man", Elder Mains, who is obsessed by "self-polliination", which is banned for spilling the sacred seed of the younger priests. After the suicide of one of young men on the mission, Jeff starts to see the impossibility of a young man self-pollinating, the destructive shaming of members, the oppression of women and the basic inhumanity of enforcing the strict and often illogical dogma of the church. Meanwhile, his girlfriend back in the US, plots with other women to expose the perversion of the elders, by becoming stewardesses, (sic) and taping the old man's interrogation of her own sexual proclivities. She is nothing but a "normal" young woman in love, now able to travel to NZ to free her lover from the strictures of the church.
Along the way, we see the tragedies of the lives of community members. When Jeff offers simple and humane ways to truly help people, he is scorned by the church. Seeing the coercive and punishing ways of the church, Jeff's humanity starts to leak out of the box of dogma that's been forced on him. Instead of following the church dogma, he acts from the heart and becomes persona non grata with church authorities. Many of the adventures he lives through are hilarious. The old elder is both hilarious and creepy.
Ultimately this book shows the absurdity of acting from dogma instead of from simple human ethics of doing unto others. It also exposes the more hypocritical obsessions that fuel the engines of Mormonism. Mormonism lives on in Salt Lake City, Utah, but it failed in New Zealand. Shaming and shunning members who don't conform is a study in reclaiming oneself from any authoritarian system, a story needing to be told in these days of forced allegiance to any system that disallows people from choosing their own actions.
There are things in this book about Mormon Missionaries that I found absolutely mind boggling. Worth the read alone. I don't agree with all of it, however, it introduces a fresh perspective into the lives of the men and women who dedicate themselves to serving the church. Great listen.
If the Book of Mormon Musical wanted a sequel, this would be it!
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