Review of “The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl, Part 1” by Scott Hales, published by Greg Kofford Books, 2016
No two ways about it, 2016 has been a tough year. As a society we have lost so many of the people that have made us happy and that have entertained and inspired us. We lost the Candy Man, the Goblin King, the Potions Master, the ideal TV Mom, the ideal TV Dad, the bringer of Happy Days, the Outer space Shepherd, we “lost R2”, we lost Charlotte and her web, we lost a Prince and a Princess and so, so many more. In 2016 violence was out of control all over the globe. We mourned at the pain of children in war zones and the plight of refugees. And don’t even get me started on the ugly US presidential election. So amidst all of this loss, pain, and suffering we really needed 2016 to give us something fun and lighthearted, something to inspire us, something that we could love, something that could make us think, laugh, and happy cry all at once. That something is “The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl” by Scott Hales, published by Greg Kofford Books.
“The Garden of Enid” began as a Web Comic that Scott Hales started drawing while finishing his Doctoral program as a way to “stay sane in an otherwise insane time of [his] life” (“Garden of Enid”, Introduction). When first published on the web, just a few people read it. But before long Enid had gained over 6,000 followers on Tumblr. The Greg Kofford publication of “The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl – Part One” presents excerpts from about the first six months’ worth of Enid comics (rather than present the book with traditional page numbers, the bottom of each page shows the date that the comic originally appeared online).
For those that are not familiar with the comic, “The Garden of Enid” tells the story of Enid Gardner, a 15 year old “MIA Maniac” with out of control hair and lots of teenage angst. Enid struggles with fairly typical teenage questions, and some not so typical, including issues relating to her faith, questions about the LDS Church, her place in the universe and more. She also struggles with her relationship to her mother who converted to the LDS Church when Enid was two years old. Her mother was once thin and healthy, but a lifetime of mental health and addiction related problems has left her mother extremely over weight, sick, and bed ridden. She is also distant and uncommunicative and the comic often shows Enid struggles with not having a relationship with her mother and how this affects her as she tries to fit into an ideal family obsessed religion when she is growing up in a far less than ideal family.
Each of the strips has a title with the format of “Enid vs. …”. For example: “Enid vs. the Home Teacher”, “Enid vs Personal Progress”, “Enid vs Her Imagination”, “Enid vs the Smiley People” etc. Most of the comics while having multiple frames to tell the story still fit on one page of the book; however a few stretch on for several pages. The strips are largely in black and white with some blue lines though a few have a smattering of color for dramatic effect.
I have to admit; I started following Enid online early on and have been a big fan of the series since the beginning. I frequently post Scott Hales comics on my Facebook feed and have even used them in lessons at church. I love them. I loved this book. In fact, it was the only thing that I specifically asked for as a present this Christmas. It is hard to sum up in a paragraph or two just what makes Enid so great so I will encourage all of you to go to the Enid Web Comic and buy Scott’s book to experience Enid for yourselves, but still let me try and describe for you what makes these comics and this book so awesome.
In creating Enid, Scott Hales has created a Mormon “Every Girl” for the Millennial Generation (and even for some of us older folks, I’m a “Gen X’er” myself firmly in the “mid-life crisis” time of my life). Hales’ depiction of Enid’s questions and struggles as a modern teenage Mormon girl are so realistic that in his introduction he writes that he had readers contacting him thinking that Enid was a real girl and offering her words of encouragement. I think that this is because Enid is immediately relatable. She has the kind of problems and questions that I see my own daughters and other young women (and often boys too) struggling with. For instance, as she was reading my copy of the book my wife
burst out laughing and then handed it to me opened to the December 29th comic “Enid vs the Sacrament Meeting Talk.” I immediately recognized one of my teenage daughters when Enid explained that she had been asked to give a talk in church on “How to prepare for eternal marriage” which she then explains is, “tough , y’know considering I’m the girl who’s never had a conversation with a guy for longer than 30 seconds…” In a similar vein in other strips Enid is confronted with her unrequited interest in “Kyle”, has to put together a “list” of traits that she wants in a future husband (I’ll just say that leprosy and pro wrestling become involved), is offended at being called an “Eight Cow babe” by Johnny Lingo, tries to keep from being danced with at the “teen dance” and then is disappointed when she is not danced with, and has her broken by the cute guy at EFY before making friends with a fellow weird Mormon boy in the end.
One of the things that make Enid so great is how Hales so naturally and thoroughly works in Mormon cultural and historical references often in the form of “Easter eggs”. For many of these one must pay close attention to Enid’s t-shirts. Here you will catch everything from references to Star Wars, to Twilight, to Mormon blogs, to historical figures and many more. I won’t be any more specific, I don’t want to spoil the fun. As Enid tries to find her place in Mormonism the readers will frequently see her deal with and work her way through so many of the things that they too have experienced. In various comics Enid “versus” everything
from “The Licked Cupcake”, to “Personal Progress”, to “Scout Sunday”, to Sunday school teachers with “crushes” on Bruce R McConkie, to ridiculous “Mormon Pop” music, to skinny jean controversies and much, much more. One frequent, and for me a favorite, plot devices that Hales uses is to have Enid have a conversation with important Mormon historical figures. Over the course of the book Enid has several conversations with Joseph Smith, Abraham, Eliza Snow, the Book of Abraham Mummies, Evan Stephens and many more. The stories in the comics quite frequently have fun with all of the silly bits and kitsch of Mormon culture. In this book you will find Enid encountering CTR rings, Slow Hymn Singing, Runny Nose Deacons, Young Women’s Camp Scary Stories, and very boring meetings. Along with all of the fun Enid also deals with serious topics like family relationships, understanding and dealing with various Mormon teachings and doctrines, and defining for herself just who God is to her. As Enid explores her way through Mormon teenage girlhood readers will find strips that will make them laugh, make them cry, give them hope, and most importantly, make them think.
In the front of the book following quotes from Alfred Tennyson and Emmeline B. Wells is this statement from the YLMIA leaders given in November, 1941:
In presenting the lessons on “The Latter-day Saint Girl” avoid being “preachy”, make your stories and illustrations as realistic and concrete as possible. We suggest that you introduce to the class an imaginary girl. Let her stand before them. Do not make her to saintly or invest her with impossible virtues, but help the members to see her as a real, fun-loving, pure-minded, healthy “Mormon” girl.
Unfortunately, exactly what the YLMIA leaders warned against in 1914 is what we mostly get in LDS lessons, books, and culture. We seem to get an awfully huge dosing of unrealistic, overly “saintly” with “impossible virtues” “Ensign Cover Families”, stories about “One Hundred Percenter’s”, and books about “Not Even Once Club’s”. In an LDS culture too often filled with out of reach Pedestal Perfect examples that relate to almost no ones’ lives, Scott Hales has breathed a huge breath of refreshing air by creating “illustrations” of an “imaginary” teen girl who truly is “realistic, fun loving, and pure minded” . By giving us the stories of a confused, angsty, nerdy “Weird Mormon Girl” who is asking the kinds of questions that real teens ask and struggling with the various things that real young Mormons struggle with Scott Hales has given the Mormon audience exactly what the YLMIA leaders asked for 102 years ago and he has given us exactly what we needed in 2016 to inspire us, entertain us, and to resuscitate our crushed hopes. I encourage everyone to “like and follow” Enid’s webcomic and to purchase and read “The Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl Part One” as well as part two when it becomes available in 2017.