McIlvain is from a sixth-generation Mormon family. He was born in Utah and grew up in Massachusetts. He's now living in Los Angeles and pursuing his Ph.D. in literature at the University of Southern California. McIlvain joins Fresh Air's Terry Gross to discuss Elders, which follows a young American man and a young Brazilian man as they carry out their missions.

Interview Highlights

On how his mission to Brazil became a way of convincing himself of his own faith

"I was a doubter almost as soon as I became aware of what I believed. I became aware at maybe 13, 14 that I'd been drafted onto this team called Mormonism that was distinct from the Catholicism that was the norm where I grew up in Massachusetts. And I started to become aware of those differences, and instantly I was doubting them, at first privately and then, by the time I was in my late teens, quite vocally. But some of the people who were very close to me — my parents, certain friends in my congregation, or ward, as it's called — their example meant a lot to me, and I thought, 'What do they know that I don't know?' So the mission for me became a chance for me to make a large commitment, commensurate to the large amount of grace I felt I needed in order to believe what seemed, on the face of it, unbelievable things."