Review: The Garden of Enid by Scott Hales
The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl is a graphic novel in two parts by Scott Hales. The story revolves around the title character who is an only child of a single mother. Enid experiences doubt and often tries to work through her church and faith issues by talking with long-dead Mormon figures like Joseph Smith, Eliza R. Snow, and Brigham Young – even Juanita Brooks makes an appearance. She also converses with several texts, including the lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and Joanna Brooks’ Book of Mormon Girl.
Many of Enid’s issues with the LDS Church stem from historical problems that earlier versions of church history omitted, but were discussed in so-called anti-Mormon sources, and now addressed in the Church’s online essays. Enid asks a lot of big questions about God and religion. There are many funny moments and entertaining bits.
But there are problematic elements. Most scenes/sections in this book are one page long, making the book feels very choppy in its construction. While graphic novels are made up of short frames of action, Hales does not follow Enid through the details of her narrative, but flashes her thoughts and actions to the reader in ways that feel under-developed. I finished parts one and two wishing that there was more story and fewer short jokes in this graphic novel. Having lengthier, more developed scenes may have helped with other issues.
At the end of part two, there is a transcription of part of a podcast interview where Katherine Morris interviewed Hales about the genesis and development of Enid. Hales talked about Mormon fiction being full of male characters and Enid’s character pushes against that norm. The foreward by Jana Riess talks about how the central character was based on her own story. That said, I feel like Hales does not write Enid’s character with strong insights about being a Mormon teenage girl. Yes, she has Young Women leaders, a named girlfriend, and a crush on a boy, but these features do not create a three-dimensional Enid. There is a lot of unexplored potential in her character.
For example, Enid’s main problems with the church have to do with history, and Mormon teenagers have access to elements of church history that Mormon teenagers in the pre-internet days didn’t. But as a Mormon Young Woman, I was concerned (and necessarily silent, because I was striving to be the very best Molly Mormon that I could be) with the obvious discrepancies between the resources that the boys enjoyed through scouting that were never available to the girls. I was told that men’s and women’s roles were equal in the church, but I didn’t see evidence of that inequality. My Young Women’s lessons were preparing me for a subservient role without them ever using words that indicated submission. I was being instructed that I should always let my future husband have the final call if there was a disagreement. If Enid can wonder aloud about the revelatory process of Joseph Smith looking at a magic pebble in a hat, I’m pretty sure that Enid has the observational powers and critical thinking skills to pick up on issues that impact her life more directly, but she doesn’t.
In the interview with Katherine Morris, Hales tells us that he imbued Enid with the kinds of questions and thinking that he experienced as a 15 year old Mormon boy. That is great, but it does point out the lack of gender insight. Young Men and Young Women experience different things within the LDS Church and Mormon culture, receiving different kinds of training and coaching. This novel does not reflect much of that, and it undermines the author’s goal of writing fully-fledged women and girls into Mormon literature.
The final point I want to make is about Enid’s story itself. Her story is one of tragedy. Her mentally ill mother presumably commits suicide, though that is not stated explicitly in the text. This is where my own personal story overlaps with Enid’s and where Hales would have done well to spend more time understanding his central character from her own point of view. We don’t see strong emotional responses from Enid or get into depth of complexity into her relationship with her mothers. Her mother’s death is a complicated loss that the author almost skips over. Families are important in Mormonism and daughters are instructed to learn so much from their mothers. I think that more content exploring the complexity of the mother-daughter relationship within the frame of Mormonism would have been fabulous and helped to make Enid more real. It is a missed opportunity that she and Hales skim the surface of that relationship.
Hales talks about his purpose in the interview. He was interested in telling the story of the family who needs a lot of love and support from the ward as a way of showing the goodness of Mormonism. As someone who occupied that difficult space as a Young Woman, it looks a lot different from the way in which Hales portrayed it: full of guilt for being that-needy-family (there is a brief reference to this), full of remorse for not being able to fix unfixable problems with greater faith and obedience, full of experiencing other people’s well-intentioned ignorance about the limits of your situation, capped off with a healthy dose of Mormon rejection when you are unable to be loved out of your problems. Hales set up a situation ripe for plumbing the dark depths of Mormon charity, but the end result does not live up to its promise.