Book Review - Lost Boy
By Brent W. Jeffs with Maia Szalavitz
Reviewed by Andrea Moore-Emmett
Lost Boy is the story of Brent Jeffs, a fourth-generation-born Mormon fundamentalist polygamist from the Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints (FLDS). This painful and self-revelatory account of one young man’s horrific journey is a well-written and candid story that recounts an abusive existence under a façade of religious piety, family legacy, and male privilege. (His family origins in polygamy can be traced six generations back to Joseph Smith.) The story progresses to detail the struggle of someone living as a “Gentile” within the larger Utah culture, which is itself uniquely outside the mainstream of American society.
Brent’s first-person narrative is an important account historically because he brought the landmark lawsuit against his uncle, FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, and the FLDS church. Brent filed the suit in 2004 for compensatory and punitive damages alleging that Warren sodomized him regularly when he was between the ages of four and six. In the unfolding story, readers come to understand the power that Warren held over children, his opportunity to exploit them, and those who were accomplices to his crimes. Readers also learn that, as with all pedophiles, his victims included others, as well. In particular, Brent’s older brother Clayne is so tormented by Warren’s sexual abuse that his self-destructive behavior leads him to the ultimate eventuality: suicide.
Lost Boy describes an often abusive and violent home life, where wives and children are pitted against one another for scarce resources, and a community that lives in paranoid fear, guilt, mind-numbing obedience, and isolation.
In heartbreaking honesty, Brent describes his struggle to eventually assimilate into public school after Rulon Jeffs expels the family from the FLDS, and that of living with other lost boys who are also floundering in a new and judgmentally stratified culture. Further, his narrative graphically explains how abuse and abandonment cause these children to migrate toward the drug culture for self-medication and some sense of belonging: “…goody-goody Mormons weren’t an option. But the stoners accepted anyone.”
One problem occurs at the point where the book asserts that boys have been expelled from the FLDS since 1999 (also included on the jacket cover), This assertion leads readers to believe that such expulsions began only in that year, when in fact they simply increased in that group in 1999. From my own research and the common knowledge in Utah, the expulsion of boys has been an ever-present dynamic in the FLDS group as well as in other fundamentalist polygamist groups and independent families; and it remains so today.
At times Brent romanticizes the past, when a different leadership held power over the group, including periods of time before his birth. He writes that, early in the group’s history, “…the FLDS was mighty peculiar, but not particularly perverse.” Yet he recounts family and church history that is decidedly perverse. Such examples include describing his grandfather’s first wife’s breakdown, the church ownership of people’s homes, the massive numbers of children’s deaths, and a genetic disorder from arranged intermarriage that is responsible for the deaths of seven of his mother’s siblings—just to name a few.
We can forgive much of this, however, as Brent admits to the continuing process of unraveling and understanding his roots, which he illustrates with poignant moments of developing insight. For example, in describing the group’s penchant for avoiding medical care, he says, seemingly to himself, “I can’t help but think that it … was a way to hide child abuse.”
Lost Boy is important also in providing an added perspective in the dialogue concerning abuses that have been endured within Mormon and Christian fundamentalist polygamy because, so far, there are relatively few male voices among this former-member demographic. And although not a typical “lost boy” (his parents and siblings are a part of his life and also exiled from the FLDS church), Brent gives readers great insight into the plight of male children who are expelled or otherwise exiled from their families, communities, religion, and way of life.
Ultimately, Lost Boy is the story of a young man confronting memories of the sexual abuse he endured, and bravely standing up to the perpetrator. To have undertaken the task of this daunting self-examination, and then to have made his story public, Brent Jeffs is to be commended, as well as for the lawsuit he filed against his Uncle Warren.
Lost Boy is an important work for anyone studying, or wishing to gain further insight into, the subject of contemporary Mormon fundamentalist polygamy.
Cultic Studies Review, Vol. 8, No. 3, 2009, Page