Title: The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance
Author: Elna Baker
Published: 2009; Pages: 274
Ok, not gonna lie. The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance is the worst title ever. Sorry Elna. Even after carrying the book around in my purse for weeks I still couldn’t tell you what it’s called.
And a bit of a disclaimer. I accepted this book from the publisher with some firm biases already in place–some of my own and some from my cousin – a single Mormon living in New York who shared a bit of information about the book and author when I told her I was going to receive it from the publisher. I knew I had to separate myself out when reading this book and at first it was easy but in the end I’m not sure how well I succeeded.
Brief Blip: The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance is about Elna’s struggles to come to terms with herself, her body, her religion, and her relationships with others while living in New York City in her early twenties. Overweight and never been kissed, she turns to God and her faith to help her make the right decisions and find herself.
Thoughts in General:
Upon beginning NY Mormon Singles Dance I immediately liked Elna. She was funny, honest, witty, and I could relate to her struggles with her religion. She writes:
“When I came to NYU, I was kind of on the fence about whether I wanted to be Mormon anymore. I obviously didn’t tell my parents this. It was just such a big thing to be, a Mormon. And it’s not the sort of religion you can do because you don’t want to disappoint your mom and dad. It requires major commitments: It asks for your life. And while I understood that I was influenced by my Mormon upbringing, I knew that I was many other things. In addition to being Mormon, I was Elna” (8).
She continues to discuss her religion but also her experiences in New York as an aspiring actress, her attempts at weight loss, and her desire to be desired by the opposite sex. I laughed out loud and nodded my head in agreement…until I didn’t agree anymore.
At the core of this book is the struggle to define oneself within a tiny little box. Having grown up in the Mormon church (but no longer practice), I understand how rigid the tiny little box is that Elna was trying to fit within. I understood her difficulties so well that at the beginning of the reading I couldn’t wait to see where Elna was heading (the quote above defines my late teenage and college years).
What I did not agree with was how religion was constantly used as a scapegoat for various situations that Elna got herself into. There is a difference between not knowing what you believe in and searching to find out just what that is and constantly toeing the line and pushing boundaries because you’re unsure whether a certain religion is one for you. This especially came up during Elna’s romantic encounters and I was always left feeling a little uncomfortable about the message she was trying to get across to her readers. I feel this is a somewhat harsh evaluation of the book and author, which I try to avoid, but an evaluation that I couldn’t ignore in my reading. I do realize that my response was personal, however, and I totally own that.
I enjoyed the book and have heard many others say they enjoyed the book as well. I haven’t heard much criticism, but then again I haven’t read many reviews. Elna is very likable and her honesty makes you want to continue with the story. But in the end I’m not sure what story she’s writing. When I closed the book I realized I had no idea what the book was truly about. It started off being one thing and in the end took a huge detour. I wonder if this is because Elna is still young and still looking to find herself. After finishing my reading I wanted the book to be a bit more concrete, but I guess Elna says it best herself:
“I’ve spent a decade saying yes to both sides, stalling and questioning, not ready to choose and watch my life become simpler and more ordinary. Only without definite or definable values I’m a genuine indeterminate. I am what I might be, not what I am” (272).
On the fence…about my feelings on this book.
Have you read it? What did you think?
Many thanks to Ashley at Plume and Hudson Street Press for sending me a copy of this book!