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June 6, 2012
Latter-day Books
From Straying to Praying: A Prodigal's Well-told Story
by Laurie Williams Sowby

Rescued -- A Prodigal's Journey Home, by Jerry Earl Johnston. Covenant Communications, Inc., 2012, 116 pages hardcover, $15.99.

Interesting that one of my first columns for Nauvoo Times is a review of a book by longtime Deseret News reporter and Mormon Times columnist Jerry Johnston, a guy whose prose I've admired since my own early days with the News.

I've noticed that Johnston's columns in recent years have taken on more honesty and depth. After reading his new book, I understand. In Rescued -- a Prodigal's Journey Home, we see why glib prose has flowered into profound thought.

The book's title is a succinct, bottom-line summary of the story of an LDS man who served a mission because his authoritarian father expected no less, then "bolted from the Church" as soon he'd completed it. Determined to become a sophisticated disciple of "the God of Good Taste," as he says, he fell away and stayed away from the Church for 20 years. Viewing himself as an "intellectual," Johnston spurned his LDS upbringing and values while building a successful career as a writer.

How the prodigal made his way home -- thanks to many individuals including his wife, friends, and co-workers who never gave up on him -- makes for a touching, intimate, and courageous personal account. Johnston dedicates the book "To the grandkids -- a manual for what not to do and how not to do it."

The book takes as many side trips as Johnston's own journey did, shifting forward and backward in time and distance from the starting point. With honest and sometimes humorous detail, he fleshes out some of the watershed experiences along the way, from Utah to Bolivia and in between. He speaks of memorable encounters with President Gordon B. Hinckley and long conversations with Elder Neal Maxwell (and includes the Deseret News columns he wrote in tribute at their passing).

But it's also the less-known "ordinary" people who stand out in his journey.

Although there's an occasional scriptural reference or quote, there's no deep discussion of doctrine here. Instead, we see the doctrine in action. This is a highly human story of repentance and transformation that we can relate to, regardless of where we are on the path home. The insights apply whether we are the rescuers or the one in need of rescue.

The Johnston prose is apparent, with metaphors aplenty. He describes his "mighty change" thus: "Yes, my heart had been broken. But not the way romance gone bad breaks a heart. It was more as if my heart had been broken open -- like a pomegranate -- and gushed with overflowing sweetness…It had broken and revealed something warm and alive -- like a brittle egg giving way to the chick or a tightly wrapped cocoon bursting to free the butterfly."

Undeniable Jerry Johnston.

His is a compelling personal story of triumph over his past and hope for the future. But it is more gratitude than attitude in the telling. He makes it clear that the heroes in this story are God and His Son, our Savior. Johnston expresses, in everyday language, awe at those who surrounded him with unconditional love, even from beyond the veil.

One gets the sense that Johnston shares his story not so much for himself as to reassure spiritual vagabonds -- and those who love them -- that they can find their way home again.

Copyright © 2023 by Laurie Williams Sowby Printed from