Thursday, December 18, 2008

Book Review: Behind the Smiling Faces

Behind the Smiling Faces: An LDS Perspective on Marriage and Divorce by Renita Clark Cassidy and Alan Cassidy, 264 pages. Published by Leatherwood Press (Sandy, UT), 2008. ISBN: 978-1-59992-127-3. Retail price: $16.95.

Behind the Smiling Faces contains advice, instruction, and experiences from eleven marriage and counseling professionals and over eighteen “ordinary” Latter-day Saint couples. Even if the title is misleading and the book’s scope is very broad, the wide-ranged and varied content of Behind the Smiling Faces accomplishes the goal of the authors to represent the “people” we see all the time—“the men and women who worship with you on Sunday. . . . your family and friends. . . .[or] even you” and how “some . . . smiles reflect and inner peace and joy” while other “smiles mask . . . pain” (11).

My assumption in reading the title of this book, and seeing the cover photograph, was that it would be a depressing soapbox about how the common LDS view of the importance of a “perfect” marriage is flawed. This assumption was incorrect. Instead, this book is a compilation of information striving to demonstrate the realities of marital challenges and joys in an LDS context.

What’s the difference? For the most part, Behind the Smiling Faces is very encouraging, despite what the cover art depicts. I loved reading the advice from LDS marriage and counseling professionals included in Behind the Smiling Faces, many of whose books I have also read or heard of.

The biggest problem I found with this book is the scope is extremely broad. At first I felt like the book was written for people preparing for marriage, then for people who were married and needed advice and encouragement (don’t we all?), then for people who were thinking about divorce, and then for people who have already gone through a divorce. Because Behind the Smiling Faces tries to cover all of these circumstances, I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving it to anyone in any of those groups. For example, the divorce parts would be big downers for people preparing to get married, and the marriage prep advice would be salt in the wound for recent divorcees.

Thus the only audience that Behind the Smiling Faces fits is marriage enthusiasts, like the authors, professionals quoted in the book, and anyone else interested in learning everything the authors could think to include about an LDS perspective on marriage, but readers would need to be without any severe emotional ties to the topic.

I was also disappointed that most of the book is in interview format—questions followed by answers. I would prefer that the marriage and counseling professionals and interviewed couples would have just written their own chapters instead of the authors breaking up what they have to say.

Behind the Smiling Faces is far from a bad read, but it is confusing. Reading the author’s preface, “Words to the Why’s” (besides the fact that it should be "Whys") is definitely essential and helped me realize what the book was trying to do. I loved the compilation-type content from LDS marriage and counseling professionals as well as the real-life stories from couple interviewees, but because Behind the Smiling Faces tries to cover too much it’s not quite right for any specific audience.


Simply Sweet Marriage said...

Great Review! I wondered about that book.

We are working on getting a GOOD book distributor, and I would love your feedback on some books.

Jennifer Ricks said...

I'd love to help! Email me if you'd like me to review something.

Alan and Renita Cassidy said...

Greetings, Jennifer! We recently happened upon your blog. We thank you for reading and thoughtfully reviewing our book, and would like to make a few clarifications. Concerning the cover art, you may be interested to know that authors do not always have creative control. That said, we were quite surprised at the number of favorable opinions. Regarding the interview format, written chapters might have been preferable but it would be quite presumptuous of us to expect the commitment that would have been required of these busy professionals. The couple’s experiences were not in interview format but rather in conversational tone between husband and wife.

Might we speak to the subject of perspective? Outlooks often vary due to social and cultural backgrounds, so your viewpoint may differ from that of your peers. While you wouldn’t feel comfortable giving "Behind the Smiling Faces" to someone preparing for marriage, a BYU student wrote: "[The book] really is very good. I am not married, but I feel as though this book has really opened my eyes as to what I need to watch for and what my priorities should be in choosing my spouse. It is very real and raw, which is good, especially for people of the LDS faith. I loved it. Thank you." A recently engaged young woman said, "The diagrams are so awesome. They really helped me." As life tutors and challenges us over a lifetime, it also broadens and deepens our perspectives. Seasoned readers have responded with such comments as "This book saved my sister’s life" and "I loved it! It changed my life. My wife and I already have a great marriage but this book showed me how I can be a better husband." Many have given copies to their married children and to their bishops and stake presidents. Many have expressed appreciation for its broad scope and consider it a valuable resource, as it was meant to be.

We appreciate your admirable plan to remain a lifelong newlywed. We believe in that. Sadly, we don’t see it often enough. And that’s why we do what we do. We’re on the same side, Jennifer – you and us and others like us who believe in celestial marriage and are "passionate about helping other people create and maintain a happy marriage." We each do it from our own perspectives, you from yours, we from ours. We applaud your righteous desires and seek Heavenly Father’s blessings upon your efforts as you grow to see life through the eyes of others.

Jennifer Ricks said...

Alan and Renita,

Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I appreciate you adding your perspective to this post.

This review was not meant to be a universal response to your book--which would be impossible--but my opinion of it. I review books as an interested reader and by looking at them in their entirety--design, organization, and content--which is how they are received by the general public.

Thank you again for your contribution through this book, and I'm glad to hear that it has been a helpful tool to some of your readers.