No Going Back is a new novel by Jonathan Langford that chronicles a year (or so) in the life of a Mormon teenager after he decides to come out to his mother and his best friend. Paul lives in Oregon with his mother, spends time with his best friend Chad, and in many ways seems like a typical LDS teenager. Until he tells Chad that he is same-sex attracted; Chad?s father is the bishop of their ward and provides a sympathetic ear to Paul, both in his role as bishop and as the surrogate father he has been to Paul since he and his mother moved into their ward a few years earlier.
The book is written in a straightforward, naturalistic style and chronicles ordinary events in the lives of Paul and Chad and their families. Paul joins the Gay-Straight alliance at school in an effort to understand homosexuality from a non-LDS perspective and as a way to perhaps make more friends. He and Chad play a lot of video games, attend Church activities and seminary, work on their Eagle scout awards, and figure out how to relate to their parents as adolescent boys. For me, one of the strengths of the book is this mundanity. While the focus of the book is on Paul?s struggle to understand himself and make sense of the relationship between his orientation and his membership in the Church, his character is firmly grounded in a world that feels real and believable.
The book shifts between Paul, Chad, and a number of other characters. Chad?s mother Sandy is the focus of a significant subplot that details her constant struggle to fit into her role as a stay-at-home mother and bishop?s wife. Her unease with the way her life has gone seem to be a subtle warning that perhaps the standard life-plan that Church culture provides is not the best fit for everyone; if Paul chooses to serve a mission and marry, will he find himself as unhappy as Sandy someday? Like I said, I felt that this counterpoint is subtle, yet poignant. Another strength of the book is the fact that it mostly presents characters and situations without passing judgment or advocating for one path over another. Some of the LDS characters are fabulous and some are real jerks, and the same goes for the non-LDS ones as well. The ending of the book is also open-ended, which I appreciated because Paul is only sixteen and still beginning his journey.
The book is intense and I read it rather quickly. The language is fairly typical of teenagers and I did find myself bothered a bit at times by the constant use of negative terminology. From what I remember of high school, this is fairly realistic and a sad commentary on the fact that negative epithets for homosexuals are still universally accepted in ways that other language might not be. Although the book is about teenagers, it is not marketed as a young-adult read and there is some brief sexual content. As other reviewers have noted, it is nothing that most older teenagers have probably not been exposed to already (and I liked the inclusion of the particular incident because I think it is fairly common among teenagers), but parents may want to read the book first or read it with their teens. Despite the fact that the main character is a teenager, this book really is for everyone.
The worldview of the book is faithfully LDS, but in a way that still acknowledges the fact that all members of the Church face challenges to their faith. Paul?s particular challenge is same-sex attraction, and after reading this book I can understand more fully what some of the difficulties he and others like him face. Hopefully you will too.