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Book Review: The Legend of Hermana Plunge

By Jessie Christensen

The Legend of Hermana Plunge by Angela Liscom Clayton is a memoir about the author’s mission to the Canary Islands thirty years ago. The title comes from a nickname she gave herself in response to a district meeting challenge to set outlandish goals for baptisms. At first it just seemed like a flippant nickname, but as her mission progressed she found herself identifying more with the persona of a missionary who was all-in and dedicated to the work. Be warned, however, that if you are reading this book hoping for the sugary-sweet version of dedicated sister missionaries that too often occupies popular Mormon culture, you will be disappointed. Hermana Plunge is refreshing in its depictions of all the moments of missionary life—the highs, lows, and complete absurdity (like living in an apartment with a giant graffiti depiction of male genitalia on the wall outside).

I smiled at that last description in particular because I served in Spain (on the mainland) about a decade after Angela served her mission. When people ask for stories from my mission, I have just as many absurd stories as I do inspiring ones. Missionary work is challenging in so many ways, and each mission is a unique microcosm made up of the local culture, the missionaries serving there at the time, current Church rules for missionary work, and the tone set by the mission president. I loved that the book included so many details about the mission culture at the time Angela served, which was influenced by the fact that the Canaries are a remote island chain, that the mission was new, and that the president encouraged a radical approach to teaching and baptizing. As I was reading, I felt like I was seeing events as they unfolded and got to know many different people and places along with the narrator. I was impressed with her ability to recount interactions with fellow missionaries, members of the church, and even random people on the street.

Along with the meticulous recounting of one particular mission in one particular place, the book adds in a lot of interesting commentary about being a sister missionary. This is an important perspective that can be hard to come by and the author’s insights are a valuable addition to our discourse about missions. Angela points out the unique ways in which sisters both lack power as missionaries and also gain power by working outside of the traditional hierarchy and the constraints of leadership aspirations. This rang true with my mission experience, as did her observations about the ways that sisters work differently with each other and with members than elders do. Her descriptions of the wide range of reactions from elders to the sisters serving with them rang true to me as well. This book is in no way didactic, but she does offer up some pointed critiques of how mission rules affected the dynamic between sisters and elders.

Serving a mission changes the life of a missionary just as much as the lives of those she teaches. Angela was obviously converted by her mission in the Canary Islands just as much as she worked to facilitate the conversion of others. I found it interesting to compare this memoir to Dendo, another sister missionary memoir, but one written during the mission itself. By writing thirty years after her mission, the author of this book is more fully able to see aspects of her mission that she wasn’t able to at the time. I loved both books for different reasons, and both are valuable for their insight into the real, messy, heartbreakingly wonderful life of sister missionaries. We need more sister missionary stories, and Hermana Plunge is an excellent addition to the canon.

The Legend of Hermana Plunge is published by By Common Consent Press and available in print and Kindle format from Amazon. You can read an introduction to the book by the author here.

About Jessie Christensen

Jessie served a mission in Spain and graduated from BYU with bachelor's degrees in Spanish Translation and English, as well as a master's in Spanish Literature. She currently works full-time at a university library and nurtures her three children, one cat, and a fluctuating number of fish. She relaxes by reading, baking, canning fruit, and putting together jigsaw puzzles.

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