For those of you who enjoy Hales’ web comic, Garden of Enid, it will come as no surprise that Enid in book form is a delight. For those who haven’t read any of these comics, it’s well worth your time to pick up a copy. Steve Evans capably reviewed Part One here. Part Two takes Enid further into her adolescence and through big changes in her life and character’s development.
Enid, who looks like a cross between a puppet and Gilda Radner’s Rosanne Rosannadanna, is weirder than I was, but every young woman is weird–probably every young man, too. She’s awkward but earnest, self-justifying, sometimes misunderstanding people yet also able to see the essence of them. She’s no stereotype, but she was certainly familiar to me, not just from my personal life, but many people I knew growing up in the church, those whose families and histories didn’t fit the Mormon mold. Seeing how her more “normal” Mormon friends interact with her is also familiar. They are very kind, but she finds them only partly relatable. It rings true, and the irony is of course that Mormons are usually the ones viewed as “peculiar” among their secular friends. Enid is a weird girl among Mormons, who are a weird people. Enid’s “weirdness” is her own self-identifier. We get the feeling she wouldn’t want it any other way. In some ways her weirdness feels more real than their “normal” weirdness.
As a former weird Mormon girl, I was surprised that Enid was created by a man. So often in the church, it seems that men have literally no idea what it is actually like to be a woman; they see us as some feminine exotic other species, unfathomable in our womanly mysteriousness, laudable up there on our pedestals, but genuinely different from men in some unstated, vague, assumed way that has to do with a relentlessly nurturing nature that is mostly a fiction from my experience. This is why I was so surprised to discover a few years ago that Scott Hales, a Mormon man, created this character. Enid’s femininity is not important to the comic. She’s a real person with thoughts in her head, opinions, emotions, flaws, and all.
Enid is, as the title suggests “weird,” but perhaps no weirder than any Beehive or Mia Maid aged young woman. She’s mostly just an adolescent, trying to figure out her relationship with her mother, her peers, her testimony, and her place in the world. His portrayal of her avoids the boy crazy sighings and high school politics of a Jack Weyland story while still letting Enid have a crush and attempt flirting in the most realistic portrayal I’ve seen of 14 year old girl flirting–it’s painful to watch, really, but in the best way.
Hales tackles issues familiar to the collective unconscious of the bloggernacle: church history, larger-than-life church “heroes,” Mormon stereotypes, generation gaps, broken families, feminism, and even homosexuality. In tackling these from an Enid perspective, he can talk about these issues, sometimes the purview of critics, while showing the faithful optimism of a childish brain. We see the roots of teen angst, a perfect model for faith crisis.
I made the mistake of recommending the book to my 14 year old daughter which immediately means she will not want to read it. Which is a shame, because there is so much good to Enid, so much familiar Mormon weirdness, and yet so much that is faith promoting and heart-warming, that it would be a great read for any young woman. It’s equally great for weird Mormons of all ages.