In July 2018 Jennie Withers released her nonfiction memoir, A Backpack, a Eurorail Pass, and Some Serious Baggage. Part travelogue, part coming of age, part an escape from the conservative community of Mormons, members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). Jen takes fellow Mormon Jeanne and an Eskimo named Bert from Alaska with her to Europe with the Let’s Go Europe 1994 travel guide and a Eurail Pass – by then a common way for youngsters to travel throughout the continent for a couple of weeks for a fixed low price. In the Summer of 1994 I used a Eurail Pass myself to explore the Nordic countries). The protagonist has three simple rules: 1) Be worldly, 2) No Guilt!, and 3) Discover the perfect pint of ale. Combined with a coming out as lesbian, you have more than enough ingredients to simply follow these rules, far away from home and parents in European countries, where no one would care about the principles upheld or abandoned by three twenty-two-year-old female tourists.
In retrospective, breaking away from the LDS Church was the right move for Jennie without hating Mormons or dismissing personal salvation or organized religion. Ricks College was too protective, a breakaway unavoidable. The European cities the three women visited are the obvious ones. By no means, the travelogue part is adventurous, exciting or error-free in the descriptions. The backpack part is down-to-earth, hilarious in scenes where dirty clothes need to be washed, night trains are used for sleeping, and directions are sought for the next stop. The more serious baggage consists of conversations about grief, same-sex orientation, sexual abuse in the past, and release from the strings Mormonism put on the youngsters.
Finally, Jen discovers that true freedom means more than being worldly, having a guilt-free good time and finding the perfect pint of ale.
The author about herself
My greatest reward and my greatest challenge is being a mom. I am an English teacher by profession and a writer by passion. I live, work, and play in Boise, Idaho. I believe we all have a story to tell, and my hope is that by sharing mine, I can help individuals navigate life a little easier, and perhaps feel a little less alone on the journey.
My first real writing project, Hey, Get a Job! came about because I needed a lesson plan. I thought teaching my Technical Reading and Writing students how to fill out a job application would be fabulous. I’m all about the “beg, borrow, and steal” theory of education, but when I went searching for lessons on applications, or anything else related to first jobs, I found nothing suitable for teens. I went to employers who hire kids, and I took the information out there for adults and made it consumable for teens. When I finished, I realized I had written more than a lesson plan. I wrote a book.
By far my longest and the most arduous project is my memoir, A Backpack, a Eurorail Pass, and Some Serious Baggage. Travelers, like writers, believe in the power of setting. Particularly when they are twenty-two. I thought of traveling Europe with two close friends as an escape from my conservative Mormon upbringing and the pressures of conforming to a religion I did not believe in. I discovered that freedom means more than being worldly, having a guilt-free good time, and finding the perfect pint of ale. I am looking forward to publishing this book in July of 2018 and helping others deal with the baggage of abuse, grief, and sexual orientation.
My blog and Facebook page are titled, “Hell’s Friday.” It is a phrase my grandmother (I called her Gram) used often. There’s nothing quite like a good “Hell’s Friday” to express an emotion that’s somewhere between a “damn” and a real get-your- mouth-washed-out-with-soap cuss word. Hell’s Fridays are those instances that leave us frustrated, irritated, and surprised. It’s also the Hell’s Fridays that make life interesting, and often funny. And, of course, it is through those Hell’s Fridays that we learn those lessons we need to make it through this thing called life.
I received a free review copy from the author in exchange for my personal, unbiased review upon reading.