We all have topics we can’t pass up, that consistently hook our interest, and for me, Mormon fundamentalists are near the top of that list. Ever since I read Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, I’ve been fascinated with this secretive sect, the ways leaders manipulate and coerce their followers, and how they clash with governing authorities outside their own twisted hierarchy. So when I read about Daredevils, a novel about a teenage girl running away from a polygamous marriage in the 1970s, I put it right at the top of my list.
Loretta is only fifteen when her parents force her to marry Dean, a middle-aged man who already has one wife and more than a handful of children. They cite her rebellious nature as their reasoning, as Loretta has been sneaking out of the house to meet her non-Mormon boyfriend. The rest of the novel follows her attempt to escape her new “family” in the company of Dean’s nephew, Jason, a teenage boy obsessed with Evel Knievel and his death-defying stunts.
References to Knievel make some level of sense in that they establish the time period, but the frequent interludes between chapters in Knievel’s voice feel a bit jarring and untethered from the rest of the plot. Vestal attempts to bring everything together by raising the possibility late in the novel that Knievel might be an actual character, involved in the action, but the two very distinct threads didn’t quite mesh for me. It might have made more sense if Knievel had been Loretta’s fixation, as she feels much more like a central character than Jason does. Instead, we get a lot of Jason-and-Knievel interplay, while Loretta remains too much an enigma—which is a shame, because she was the one I was curious about. Still, if you find fundamentalist Mormon culture and history interesting, Daredevils would be a good addition to your shelf.
With regards to Penguin Press and NetGalley for the review copy. On sale now!