Monday, September 20, 2010

No Going Back by Jonathan Langford

5 stars
R- really hard one to rate, plenty of sexuality, but more in a health class way than a risque way
Copy provided by the publisher at the request of the author

First things first-- I have spent a fair amount of time debating on how to review this without going into my feelings on homosexuality and without it turning into a huge mess.  I can't find a way to review this book without going into what I know is a deeply complicated and often painful topic.  I have received painful and even hateful emails in the past for my opinions and beliefs and would prefer not to repeat the experience, though, so IF THE COMMENTS GET OUT OF HAND, I WILL DELETE THEM AND/OR TURN THEM OFF ALTOGETHER!

Whew, glad that's out of the way.

*From the back cover-- A gay teenage Mormon growing up in western Oregon in 2003.  His straight best friend.  Their parents.  A typical LDS ward, a high school club about tolerance for gays, and a proposed anti-gay-marriage amendment to the state constitution.  In No Going Back, these elements combine in a coming-of-age story about faithfulness and friendship, temptation and redemption, tough choices and conflicting loyalties.*

This is normally NOT a subject I would read a book on.  Generally, it's a subject I'd prefer not to touch with a ten-foot pole.  Especially online for all the world to see.

But when the author contacted me, I decided (after a fair amount of internal debate), you know what?  It's a story that needs to be told.

Then I got the book and seriously dragged my feet reading it.  Why?  I was so afraid I would hate it.  I was so afraid that it would go against everything I believe and then I'd have to review it and it would just all be awful.  I wasn't positive that the author was LDS and I just wasn't sure the portrayal of Mormonism was going to be good.

And you know what happened?  I loved it.

Yes, parts were heart-wrenching and yes, there were things I didn't like, but overall I think the character of Paul is an absolutely brilliant portrayal of a teen struggling with his feelings for other men and his faith in the gospel.

Okay, quickly, what I didn't love-- the swearing.  I know it's realistic, but still.  I don't love reading it.  The storyline with Chad's mom-- it was fascinating, but really didn't belong in this book.  It wasn't fleshed out enough to stand alone and it didn't support the main storyline with how much of it there was.  I would LOVE to see Langford revisit the ideas there in a separate book, though.  Also, the narration lagged in places.  It really could have used a little more tightening up.

Other than that, I really thought it was very well done.  I'm not saying it's for everyone, but there were a lot of places where I thought "Exactly!  That's what I believe.  That's how I feel.  That's what I have such a terrible time putting into words."

Now, as far as recommendations go (and this is where I struggle a little)-- would I recommend it for teens..... yes and no.  Um, for LDS teens struggling with how they feel about homosexuality in general or their own personal feelings of homosexuality-- yes.  However, I do think it's the kind of book where it would be better if teens and parents both read it and talked about it.   Would I recommend it for parents of teens, yes.  I'm not sure I'd recommend it for the under... oh 15 crowd.  It is a mature subject.  It's a difficult subject.

I would also recommend it to LDS bishops.  I thought the character of Richard Mortenson, the bishop, was really insightful.

Really, if nothing else, you've got to give Langford kudos for even considering tackling such a hard subject.  I can think of exactly one other book that goes anywhere near it.  (The Way He Lived, for those that are wondering.  It's a lot more subtle, and really totally different, but also an excellent book.)

Now, technically Jonathan Langford lives in Wisconsin, but because of his strong ties to Utah and the fact that it's LDS fiction, I'm tagging this as a "local" author.


  1. I'm glad you ended up liking it (loving?) it. I have it too and will hopefully get to it sooner than later, but I'm quite nervous also, for the very same reasons you mention.

  2. Britt,

    I'm glad you liked it, and thanks for your comments!

    I think the challenges you mentioned (knowing it's a controversial topic, being unsure how the book handles that, and a sense of general exhaustion about the subject matter) are part of why many readers have shied away from looking at the book. That's one of the reasons I'm trying to make copies available for people to read a review. (And admittedly, it is an intense reading experience, though it's meant to be an ultimately positive one as well.)

    FYI, the book was originally intended mostly for Mormon readers, but I've had some positive responses from several non-Mormons. One atheist friend of ours who read it (because I had written it) said it gave her a much clearer idea of what it's like to be a Mormon. (She said it was clear that being a Mormon wasn't a Sunday-only thing.) I'm still trying to collect information on whether the book is generally interesting and accessible to non-Mormon readers or not, but so far, the evidence is mostly positive.

  3. Suey- I did end up loving it. Looking forward to seeing what you think!

    Jonathan- I'm sure that's why people have shied away. I'm not sure if accessibility is an issue so much as where people stand on the issue. If they don't agree with it they may not like it. :)
    Interesting response from your friend!

  4. Britt,

    I've actually had positive responses from several gay ex-Mormons who have left the Church over this issue. They seemed to feel that I'd done a good enough job of capturing the experience to feel that it was a story worth telling, even if they no longer agree with the Church's position on this issue. (See, for example, the review at That was frankly something of a surprise to me -- I expected more negative reactions from that direction.

    FYI, there's a page on my website ( where I provide links to all the reviews of No Going Back (positive, negative, mixed) that have appeared so far. I'm planning to link to your review within the next couple of days. It's interesting to see how different people respond to the book!

  5. Really? Yeah I'd expect very negative reviews in those cases. Very interesting.

  6. I've got this one in my electronic pile. I think it sounds intriguing if difficult.

  7. I can't wait to see what you think, Melissa!

  8. Sounds very interesting, like it would be good for the GLBT challenge. I'll have to check it out. Thanks!

  9. It is definitely a unique one for the challenge! Curious to see what you think!

  10. I finally got my review up tonight. I really liked this book too. Your review is very good. I struggled for quite a while to find the right way to review it and I hope it works out. With all that has been going on lately this is a touchy subject.

  11. Yeah, it was hard to review, especially right now! (I review before conference and all that insanity, though, so it wasn't as bad.)

    Off to check out your review!