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than a Hundred Reviews
Of This Is the Place
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American Authors Association
This is the Place
Author: Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Reviewer: W. H. McDonald – American Authors Assoc. (AAA) President
A novel that
explores growing up as a non-Mormon in Utah
There are certain issues involving our culture that you cannot
question as an author without getting all kinds of hits – both
positive and negative and none of them have anything
what-so-ever to do with the literary merits of the story. One of
those is to question or comment on some particular religious
organization, even if indirectly. It takes literary courage and
becomes a fine line between the art, prose and the balance of
However, the truth is determined by our own personal insights as
to what is correct. It almost always reflects the life long
training and the belief system of your family, community and
those who educated you. Very few ever really explore religions
outside their own youthful indoctrinations into whatever
cultural and religious heritage we were born into. So, when
author Carolyn Howard-Johnson writes a book based on her
alienation from the surrounding culture of Mormonism in Utah she
is bound to open herself up as a target.
Carolyn’s book title is taken from a quote of LDS leader Brigham
Young when he looked out over Salt Lake City and proclaimed
“This is the Place.” Contrary to some reviews I had read about
her book, I found that there was no attempt to attack any
organization. She deals with people in her book and it is the
actions and views of her characters that become the focus of the
issues in her story. However, the culture she writes about is a
collective thought and action process of a group. She writes
about her lead character having to deal with life as a
non-Mormon in a state where this is the primary social driving
force. The premise seems to be that no matter what you do or
achieve as a non-member of this cultural you will always remain
feeling like you are on the outside or at least separated in
some social way.
Carolyn uses her lead character to bring out the past as she
explores her family genealogy. We discover how a group of early
founders escaped from the bigotry and persecutions of other
places. They came to Utah to build a place where they would not
endure such things again. In her book, it seems that the former
persecuted become intolerant of outsiders over time. Maybe not
in brutal ways like blacks had in the south but at least
socially there was a division between the non-believers and
those of the LDS church.
When reading her book one gets the feeling that her story seems
almost personal and autobiographical. It feels like we are
following along in a memoir of someone exploring their family
and themselves, looking for their roots and meaning. It is well
written and the prose is top notch stuff. It flows with energy
as it almost dances through the pages. Her characters are all
alive with depth and animation. This was her first novel but it
feels like classic a piece of literature – like many other great
first novels of our time.
This book will continue to be controversial but hopefully in a
healing way. I get the feeling that the author is trying to
throw a mirror out there for people to look into for discovering
there own roots. I think the author obviously has great writing
skills and talents. I hope people read this story with both an
open mind and heart so that they can fully enjoy the actual
story she has created.
This Is The Place
by Carolyn Howard-Johnson
this Book Used
for Only about $1.00
There is a
recent review of this book at amazon.com (December 29, 2001)
that so misses the mark I find it hard to believe that
reviewer and I were reading the same book. The reviewer
takes pains to belittle the idea that subtle prejudice is,
in fact, prejudice. One wonders how much prejudice of any
sort said reviewer has encountered in her life; if a
person's definition of prejudice begins and ends at the
business end of a baseball bat, then it's obvious such a
person is not going to pick up on what's going on under the
surface in this novel.
That reviewer does say something
worth repeating, however. The comparison on the back jacket
between This Is the Place and Gone with the Wind is
ludicrous. Mitchell's first (and blessedly only) novel was
an overblown, unreadable piece of melodrama that should
better have been published, in the words of Melville, to the
flames. Howard-Johnson's first novel is exactly the
opposite; it's a spare novel, rarely a word out of place and
with very little filler, without long diversions that have
little to do with the central characters. No, Gone with the
Wind this isn't, and I, for one, couldn't be happier.
Set in 1959, This Is the Place gives
us Skylar Eccles, between high school and college, working
for the local paper, and a non-Mormon living in the state of
Utah. She's dating a Mormon seriously, and it looks as if
she's treading the same routs as most of her ancestors that
we get to know in this novel: she's going to marry a Mormon.
But how that affects her, how her wordless battle against
pre-ERA workplaces, and the various other strings of plot
here are of secondary importance. This Is the Place is a
novel about the Eccles family and Sky's attempt to put the
recent family history into words. [ed. note to be edited out
of the Amazon posting: In other words: this is what
Billiards at Half Past Nine could have been and wasn't.]
It is a love affair with genealogy, and that is what makes
this novel shine. More than once while reading this, I found
myself making comparisons to Lee Smith's brilliant novel
Oral History; I get the feeling that the audiences for the
two books would cross over perfectly.
Since I felt compelled to mention
the prejudice angle previously, I might as well attempt to
justify it. Sure, there's prejudice to be found here. Anyone
who grew up with Tom Fitzgerald's wondrous Great Brain books
has a basic understanding of the ins and outs of Utah
society. Not much changed between T. D. and his family at
the turn of the century and Sky in 1959. Much is made of the
oppression of the Mormons by American society; much is made
of the oppression the Mormons foist on others, as well, both
the non-Mormons living in Utah and those places to whom the
Mormons send missionaries. There's also a rather biting
passage about the non-Mormon minority's feelings towards the
Mormons that had me wanting to stand up and cheer for our
heroine. Yes, prejudice is pervasive in this novel, but it's
not thrown in our faces with the tacit understanding that we
should Do Something About It. It's presented in a more
Nietzschian fashion-- what doesn't kill us, etc. Does that
make this a bad book, or a "sell-out" as far as prejudice
goes? Far from it-- would that more American literature
treated prejudice in such a pragmatic fashion.
My main problem with the book has
nothing at all to do with Carolyn Howard-Johnson and the
tales she spins within its pages, but with the publishers.
The editor fell asleep at the wheel more times than I can
count, and every spelling and grammatical mistake jars,
especially when there are ten or twenty per page (this is
commonplace in the large italicized blocks towards the end
where Sky actually starts writing down all this family
history). If you're a nitpicker, beware-- there are large
blocks of this novel where you'll be slowed down by a shoddy
editing department. I thought the book was well worth
reading despite that, but your mileage may vary.
by Connie Bryceland
THIS IS THE PLACE
AmErica House Books-2001
I chose to read and review THIS IS THE PLACE in spite of the fact that I
am a rather lapsed Catholic and had always believed the Mormon religion
to be a stifling, unforgiving one and of little interest to me. After
reading this book, I still hold my opinion with regards to the
confinements of the religious beliefs of the Mormons or Latter Day
Saints. But the story as it is presented is compelling enough that I was
drawn in after a chapter or two, and ended up reading it all in one day.
The book is told primarily from the viewpoint of Sky Eccles, a young
woman of nineteen, set in 1959 Utah. Sky is the child of a "mixed"
marriage, in her world. Her father is a Mormon and her mother is not.
Her family name is rich in Mormon tradition and offers Sky some
protection from the insidious prejudice against "non-believers". Some
protection, but not total protection. Sky has always known that she is
different and this knowledge becomes more obvious as she carefully and
lovingly researches her family history, especially fascinated by one
grandmother who had converted in order to marry the man of her choosing.
Still, when the time comes for Sky to consider marriage, she is unable
to offer any such concession to her young man, Archer Benson. Archer is
from a staunch Mormon family and there is little question that Sky will
not be a welcome bride.
Sky is modern in many ways for her time, more so considering her
conservative upbringing. She works as a reporter for a local
newspaper-not the church-owned one-and hopes to obtain a degree in
journalism on day. Sky's dreams depend largely on her decision regarding
her engagement to Archer. If they marry as planned, she will leave
school to support the young couple until he either graduates or
completes his church-mandated mission. Ultimately, Sky breaks away
entirely, opting for her own degree in New York City when Archer heads
for Boston to attend Harvard. She and Archer part ways and later, when
Sky returns to Utah to visit the graves of her grandparents, she
realizes that she is no longer a permanent part of the land she had
thought was in her blood and bones. She recognizes the quiet prejudice
here in her homeland just as she had discovered the spread of racial
inequities during the sixties throughout the country after she left
Utah, noting that the intolerance here is not that different, if less
vocal or violent.
THIS IS THE PLACE is a very good read. It is well written and literary
in style with plenty of description of people and place to set the tone.
It does not paint Utah as a place I would like to live, but perhaps that
is as hasty a judgment on my part as some of those displayed by Sky's
associates. In any event, Ms. Howard-Johnson quite evidently knows her
subject material and has skillfully woven her knowledge into an
Buy Links for
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Is the Place
Click Here to use the study guide
included in This Is the Place as a guide for your book's study
Rebecca Brown of RebeccasReads.com said,
the end [of This Is the Place] there is a Reading Group Guide of
questions for serious discussion, which transforms this novel into a
textbook about closed societies & their impact."
The Frugal Retailer Blog
Carolyn shares nearly three decades of
retailing experience with
an emphasis on marketing.
Sharing with Writers
All things publishing with
an emphasis on book
promotion. Named to
101 Best Website list.
The New Book Review
Great way for readers, authors, reviewers and publicists to get more
mileage out of
a great review.
The Frugal Editor Blog
This is the Frugal, Smart
and Tuned-In Editor blog.
Covers editing, grammar, formatting and more.
Get the answers you need.
Awards for Carolyn's Books, Blogs and More
The New Book Review
Master's in English.org Online Universities'
101 Essential Sites for Voracious
Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites
for Sharing with Writers blog.
Best Book Award for The Frugal Book Promoter (2004) and The Frugal Editor (2008)
and the Second Edition of The Frugal Book Promoter
Reader Views Literary Award for The Frugal Editor
New Generation Award for Marketing and Finalist for The Frugal Editor
Book Publicists of Southern California's Irwin Award
Military Writers Award of Excellence for
Tracings, A Chapbook of Poetry.
A Retailer's Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotion wins author Military
Writers Society of America's Author of the Month award for March, 2010
Award from Military Writers Society of America, 2010.
MWSA also gave a nod to
She Wore Emerald Then,
a chapbook of poetry honoring mothers.
Named #! on Top Ten
Editing Books list.
New Generation Book Awards 2012,
The Frugal Book
Promoter; Finalist 2010
The Frugal Editor;
Winner 2010 Marketing Campaign for the Frugal Editor
The Oxford Award
alumna who exemplifies the Delta Gamma precept of
service to her community and who, through the years,
devotes her talents to improve the quality of life
Book Promoter is runner-up in the how-to category for
Los Angeles Book Festival 2012
Winner Diamond Award
for Achievement in the Arts
California's Arts and Culture Commission and the City of
And more than a dozen other awards for Carolyn's novel, short story collection and poetry.
See the awards page on this site.
interesting to learn how others live especially when you are reading a
well written book.”
Martinson, Host of the syndicated TV program“Connie Martinson Talks Books”
This Is the Place, winner of eight awards
including Sime-Gen's Readers Choice Award
This book is out of print
and is available only using Amazon's
new and used feature.