Review: The Garden of Enid by Scott Hales

The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl 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.

**SPOILER ALERT**

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.

 

Nancy Ross

Nancy Ross is an art history professor by day and a sociologist of religion by night. She lives in St. George, Utah with her husband and two daughters and co-hosts the Faith Transitions podcast.

You may also like...

10 Responses

  1. Enid Fan says:

    I have noticed one thing when sharing the Garden of Enid books: either they resonate with people or they don’t.

    My first reaction to this review is that the author right out of the gate has two handicaps that hamper her ability to appreciate what Hales is trying to do.

    First, she has classic genre confusion. A comic strip is written one concept at a time and serialized. While we may get to know general personality traits of a main character, I can’t think of a single comic book character that is well-rounded. And while the Charlie Brown movies may have had a fleshed out and sustained storyline, the strips in the Sunday funnies or those collected in anthologies certainly did not.

    Second, the review reveals her biases and unresolved bitterness in her review. Hales said in one interview that he writes his satire to work as an antiseptic. He presents it in a “safe” manner to get members of the church to discuss the elephants in the room, which we have been loath to do in the past.

    As I mentioned, the Garden of Enid doesn’t work for everyone. But when it does, it has a powerful antiseptic effect and can be an opening to powerful conversations.

    I shared the book with my 23-year-old daughter who struggled as a teenager growing up transplanted in a Mormon-saturated community. *SPOILER ALERT* She sat down beside me and read the whole first book. When Enid tried to get thrown out of the dance by wearing a sleeveless shirt, and her leaders behaved *correctly* by welcoming her anyways, she exclaimed: “What! They didn’t throw her out. Every time! ‘You’re skirt is too short.’ #stillbitter.” And when Enid complained about having to spend a week with rich Utah girls, she commented, “That’s a special kind of “h,” “e,” double toothpicks.”

    The genius of Hales is that he not only channels the Mormon teenage girls’ experience but also our American, Mormon cultural experience. After raising a non-traditional family, I cheered at Enid’s home dynamic, which reflected a reality rather than a “gold standard.”

    Hales has tapped into an audience that wants to believe while still being aware of the big questions that we all share as a culture. My hope is that people will take Hales’ work as an attempt to find “safe” ways to talk openly about “tough topics.” If we can laugh at ourselves, then maybe we can begin to heal. …

    • Nancy Ross says:

      On the front cover of the book, it is billed as a “graphic novel” and not a “comic strip”. I’m not confused about the genre. Comparisons with Charlie Brown are not apt.

      • Henry says:

        It originally ran as an online comic strip and was only later collected as a “graphic novel.” It should be understood in its original context.

  2. Ziff says:

    Excellent review, Nancy. I admire Hales’s goal of writing more female characters. It’s too bad that so much potential good from his decision to write Enid as a girl isn’t realized.

  3. James says:

    Odd review. Most of the criticism seems to stem from the reviewer wanting the source material to directly reflect her own specific lived experience. Seems like an unfair bar to set.

  4. Nobody should ever try to discount someone else’s experience, and I’m not doing that here. You evidently realized – and could articulate – the inequalities and injustices much earlier than I could. It was only much later that I could look back and understand that my teen frustrations and anger were due in large measure to “the obvious discrepancies between the resources that the boys enjoyed through scouting that were never available to the girls” – I felt those discrepancies at the time, but had no words or understanding of what they were or where they came from. You did, and I can see how that made your Mormon girlhood different from mine, and why Enid’s thoughts don’t reflect your own.

    But it’s astonishing how closely Enid’s attitudes and experiences parallel my own. I very much lived inside my head in those days – still do, to a great extent – to the point where I replayed life experiences, movies, books inside my head, over and over, trying them on, arguing with characters, being a Mary Sue, trying different approaches to reach different outcomes. Because I was already reading the Mormon history that was easily available in the 1970s through a nearby bookstore, although not so easily available as it is now on the internet, a lot of those internal plays were surprisingly like Enid’s.

    I find myself asking over and over, “How does he *know*? How does Scott get inside a teenage girl’s head like that??” Because he does get inside the head of the girl I was, over and over. I don’t think I’ve ever read a female character written by a man that feels so right to me as Enid does. Her awkwardness in social situations, like dances and EFY, is drawn from the girl’s point of view, not the boy’s. Do boys make close friends of other boys who are as different from them as Enid is from her friends? I don’t know, but I know girls do. Enid’s exasperation with her seminary teacher – followed by sympathy and understanding – is/was my own with my own youth leaders. The sentimental, the fearful, the lonely – everything shown in Enid is what I felt as a girl, and to some extent still do as a woman. I don’t know how Scott does it – how does he *know*?

    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy Enid as much as I did, because she’s such a pleasure to me. But if your youthful struggles and attempts to cope were that different from mine, then she won’t speak to you as she does to me. No fault, no blame, just different.

  5. BHodges says:

    I’m not sure why these books are billed as a graphic novel on the cover. Perhaps a marketing decision. The comic’s backstory in the “From the Author” intro, along with the Selected Notes and Commentary in the back of the book make it clear that Enid originated as a tumblr web comic. Hales talks about its haphazard development, and its format makes sense with that backdrop. I think the Charlie Brown comparison is spot on, not only from a narrative and structure standpoint, but from an artistic standpoint. Charlie himself makes a cameo or two, after all.

    One of the things I appreciate about the character of Enid is her engagement with Mormon theological ideas, in addition to her learning to navigate Mormon cultural speedbumps. I enjoyed the way she reacted to misogynistic remarks in Sunday school, complained about the differences in Young Women’s versus Young Men’s activities, critiqued Mormon modesty culture, and engaged issues particularly relevant to young women, while also talking about Mormon history problems, all while dealing with family issues.

    I don’t recall anything about suicide being mentioned. The story points to her mother having some general health issues that led to her death. I appreciated how Enid was processing the death, which happened when they were already having plenty of relationship issues. And the story of course continues beyond these two books. Having lost a parent as a teen I was profoundly moved by Enid’s story.

    Given Nancy’s background in art history I hoped to hear in this review about the drawings themselves, and perhaps some context for comic as an art form.

  6. ST says:

    http://thegardenofenid.tumblr.com/
    The story does continue, in episodic form, like a comic strip.

  1. May 1, 2017

    […] spend too much time on the medium of the story, or even the story. Both of these have been covered elsewhere. There are certainly things to critique. The Enid character never demonstrates much depth, and […]

  2. May 20, 2017

    […] Hales. Garden of Enid, vol. 2. Nancy Ross, Exponent II. “Enid asks a lot of big questions about God and religion. There are many funny moments and […]

Leave a Reply