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Scrapbook of My Years as a Zealot

Previous portrayals of Mormonism in popular media have been widely negative, expressed primitively through cheap jokes about polygamy. Recently, with the emergence of the HBO show Big Love, a positive light has been shown on the teachings of Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saints movement. We find ourselves rooting for the Mormon family in the show, which fights to keep together despite the banning of polygamy by the Church of Latter Day Saints over 100 years ago. Informative to some extent yet largely based on shock value, I wanted to learn more of the cultural elements of Mormonism than Big Love provides. Nicole Markotić’s new novel, Scrapbook of My Years as a Zealot, offers the reader a closer look into the tenets of Mormonism through the fictional narrative of an adolescent girl.

Growing up in Western Canada, the anonymous female narrator navigates the reader through a non-linear story of her time as a member of the Mormon Church. The daughter of European immigrants, she struggles to maintain a relationship with her atheist Croatian mother while also coping with her ailing German father’s sudden conversion to parenting. At such an impressionable age in junior high school, she gravitates towards Mormonism through her best friend Vera. She uses Mormonism as a way to isolate herself from her stifling family and immerse herself in a uniquely North American culture. Starting with her wardrobe and trickling down into her daily diet, she adheres to a rigid following of the religion in order to create stability within her life.

The novel shifts back and forth between adolescence and adulthood, when she ultimately leaves the Mormon Church. As an adult, the narrator begins working with delinquent children, and becomes involved with a “Jack” Mormon named Darius who, like her, was once apart of the church and knows what it is like to leave. Their vapid relationship, due to Darius’s sexual guilt leftover from his involvement with the church, Vera’s return into her life, and the constant scrutiny she receives for once being involved with Mormonism, only furthers her self-discovery while also pushing her closer to her family. 

Upon first hearing about Scrapbook of My Years as a Zealot I was led to believe that it would be a nonfiction narrative of a young girl’s journey through joining the LDS church. While initially disappointed to learn that the book was fiction, I was quickly drawn into the relationships between characters and the use of Mormonism as a means to figure out ones adolescence. While it may not have been the most forthcoming writing on Mormonism, Scrapbook of My Years as a Zealot is definitely an entertaining read for one looking to skim the surface of the controversial religion.

Written by: Cynthia Schemmer, April 30th 2009

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