A while ago there was a piece over at The Toast by Diana Hurlburt about a book series called The Bee Theres. I won’t lie to you: I went a little nuts and instantly bought three of them. That wasn’t cheap, because while Amazon has people selling used copies for a penny, I live 1) in the back of beyond and 2) in Canada, and shipping charges are ridiculous. It would have been cheaper to buy a plane ticket for an actual Mormon and get them to bring the books as carry-on luggage. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but shipping charges really are the worst part of buying books.
(It still beats my childhood, when shopping online was not an option and going to a bookstore was a HUGE DEAL because there wasn’t one in my town. So my disgruntlement has limits.)
Anyway, dazzled by the news that there was a girls’ series I not only hadn’t read but hadn’t even heard of, I set out to instantly immerse myself (immersion to a depth of three books, bought in the wrong order).
Reading these as an adult who isn’t LDS (and hasn’t ever been) is about as “not the target reader” an experience as one can ever have, but I really enjoyed them. Possibly if I WAS the right age, and Mormon, I would have felt they were a little…not preachy, exactly, but proscriptive. But as an absolute outsider, what struck me most was how gentle these girls were as compared to, say, the characters in the Taffy Sinclair books (which I read and loved, eons ago). There’s no way Becca and Marybeth and Sunshine and Elena and Carlie would have dreamed up an “anti- some other girl” club. Even when they’re all feeling threatened by Ducky’s overachieving self, the most they do is have one single meeting (at McDonald’s! they go there all the time in these books) to discuss her, and when she walks in midway through they invite her to sit down.
Also, these girls are BUSY. They attend something called Beehive, which I spent most of one book thinking was Sunday School but no: they also attend Sunday School, so this is something else. Also they do “service projects,” basically age-appropriate charity projects, AND they go to Girls Camp, AND they do fundraising for that, AND they design and sew bridesmaids’ dresses. Basically they make the Babysitters Club look like a bunch of slackers.
ALSO, and this stood out a mile, the girls in these books are openly interested in marriage. I mean, not right this second: they’re twelve, and make it very clear they can’t even date until they’re sixteen. But, like, they speculate about who they’ll grow up to marry, and play “who will I marry?” games at sleepovers. I only even know about “who will I marry?” games from my grandmother, and from reprints of books for girls from a century or more ago. We didn’t play games about, or openly talk about, marriage when I was twelve. I don’t know if my group of friends were singularly warped, or if it was a widespread cultural thing, but we would have been somehow embarrassed to simply admit we wanted to grow up and get married (even though we all DID grow up and get married, and in retrospect everyone else must have thought about it as much as I did, so…how did this end up being something we didn’t discuss? That’s really strange. We talked about boys, dating, sex, who had their period or wore bras yet…but not marriage. Were we all idiots?)
All the things I associate with Mormon culture show up here, more or less. Largish families; a sense of historicity and interest in ancestors (the girls don’t scrapbook, at least not in the three books I own, but they do presentations on their ancestors, visit a farm that Becca’s great-grandmother used to live at, are encouraged to keep diaries, and sew dresses using scraps of fabric that are meaningful to them); older brothers getting mission calls (okay, I only know that from the other side: youngish men showing up on my doorstep); a wedding at the Temple which the girls can’t actually attend (I had a family member who did this, and her non-LDS family could only attend the reception).
Also a few things possibly not as often associated with Mormon culture (by non-LDS people, I mean) are here: a single working mother (widowed maybe? I couldn’t tell); a mother of eight children who is rediscovering her passion for writing; a mother who teaches history at a university. No big deal is made of any of this (apart from the one who goes back to writing, but that’s only because there’s a bit of a mystery about what she’s up to until the end of the book). The mothers are just quietly there, being awesome in the background.
I am currently refraining from cornering one of the locally-assigned Mormon missionaries to ask all about Beehives, because I suspect that would be rude, but I’ve really enjoyed the books. It’s a pity the missionaries don’t hand THESE out, actually, because I bet it would make local people view them with affection even if they had zero interest in conversion.