America’s best-known polygamist family, the Kody Browns, became famous on TLC’s Sister Wives. As we catch up with Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine, Robyn and their (as of 2020) 18 children, we thought we’d also gather a bunch of our favorite reads on Mormonism, including history, memoir, and fiction. Because the more the merrier, right?
The Lonely Polygamist
Published at the close of HBO series Big Love, Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist approaches the tribulations of plural marriage like other writers (such as John Irving) have done with monogamous couples. Golden Richards, husband to four wives, is the miserable protagonist of this novel, who finds himself embroiled in an affair that threatens his faith to the core. Udall, who was raised Mormon and graduated from Brigham Young University, proves that the Mormon experience is just one of the many versions of the American dysfunctional family.
This debut novel by Ryan McIlvain, who resigned from the Mormon church in his early 20s, tells the story of Elder McLeod, a young Mormon man about to embark on his mission trip in Brazil. There he meets his partner, the devout Elder Passos, determined to convert as many people as possible. When the two men encounter a young couple who hope to be baptized, Elder McLeod must confront his own doubts about his Mormon faith.
Elizabeth Smart’s memoir tells of her harrowing abduction and abuse at the hands religious fanatics Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee when she was just 14. In this brave book, she reveals how her Mormon faith steadied her during each hour of her nine-month abduction. Since Smart’s rescue in 2003, she has pursued a successful career speaking on preventing child abuse and has become an advocate for victim’s rights.
The 19th Wife
David Ebershoff’s second novel, The 19th Wife, tells the story Ann Eliza Young, who separates from her husband Brigham Young, one of the first leaders of Mormonism, only to lead the siege against polygamy. Ann’s story is intertwined with that of a modern-day murder mystery on a Mormon compound in Utah. The result is a sweeping epic about faith and family, from 1875 to the present day.
Side note: Ebershoff’s debut novel, The Danish Girl, has been adapted into a film of the same name starring Eddie Redmayne, which premieres this Thanksgiving.
Under the Banner of Heaven
This gripping history begins with the disturbing murder of a mother and child in Mormon Utah, leaving a community stunned by its horrifying violence. But Krakauer expands his premise to include fascinating details about the birth of Mormonism in the United States, revealing its rough history in the West, leading to a fascinating investigation of the link between faith and violence.