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This Is The Place


									by: David Leonhardt a.k.a. The Happy Guy

This Is The Place
Carolyn Howard-Johnson
America House Book Publishers
ISBN: 1-58851-352-1

Reviewed by David Leonhardt, a.k.a. The Happy Guy

Believe it or not, it was the title that drew me to This Is The Place. From a savvy marketer like
author Carolyn Howard-Johnson, I would have expected a title with a real splashy hook. From
someone as enthusiastic as she, I would have expected a title with some oomph! This title
seemed so so so out of character.

But that's because I knew nothing of Mormon history. Now I do. And so does anyone else who
reads This Is The Place - a tale tossing on the stormy seas of a society divided by religion. "This
is the Place" is what Brigham Young had said when he first led his Mormon flock into the Salt
Lake Valley, where they would be free from the persecution they felt in the East. Howard-
Johnson writes: "They were bringing with them a determination that would be tapped to deal
with the harshness of this land that both defied life and nourished it with spiritual intensity. He
had said, 'This is the place.' And it was."

Howard-Johnson warned me that her novel is "literary" and might not appeal to men. If literary
means there is a lot of angst and torment and gnashing of teeth, or at least a valley full of soul-
searching, then it is literary indeed. Howard-Johnson crafts very realistic characters struggling
with prejudices, family pressure and their own internal contradictions.

Set in 1959, This Is The Place is built of one intriguing layer upon the next. Each generation of
the Eccles family replays the same challenges, the same choices and the same griefs of the
previous one. Early in the book, I lost track of how many generations carry the same burdens.
Half the fun is in trying to keep track of who is who.

Howard-Johnson calls her novel "historical fiction", but when I asked her, she said it is also "a
cross between memoir and novel." Much about Skylar Eccles, the heroine of the story, is
autobiographical. Like her Mormon father and "gentile" mother. Like being the youngest
reporter ever hired by the Salt Lake Tribune at that time. Like the piano dragged across the

So Howard-Johnson writes about Skylar Eccles, who writes about various family members who
tell her about her ancestors. Trying to follow the layers in This Is The Place is a bit like trying to
keep track of the men playing female characters disguised as men playing roles as women in
Shakespeare's As You Like It.
To say that This Is The Place is controversial is an understatement. Howard-Johnson paints a
vivid portrait of a society torn by prejudice, not on the surface, but in undercurrents just below -
the secret everybody shares.

About her book signings, she says, "Unfortunately, I can't determine how to keep away the
religious right who want to convert me away from Mormonism, which is kind of hard to do
because I'm not one!" In hindsight, Howard-Johnson seems to have written such protests right
into her novel: "Sky had the anonymity of a Mormon name bestowed upon her by her father. Sky
had the coloring carried through the same seminal link. She was rarely asked if she was
Mormon; people just assumed."

Maybe the protesters should read the book and find out about Howard-Johnson er I mean Skylar,
for themselves. And maybe you should read This Is The Place, too. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The reviewer is David Leonhardt, author of Climb your Stairway to Heaven: the 9 habits of
maximum happiness.

This article was posted on June 6, 2002

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