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The Big Five (+1) in YA: Christianity

2012 September 18
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Last month, I discussed my quest for YA literature involving Buddhism and the two novels I found that met my criteria. Thanks to a commenter on that post (mclicious), I found a few more using the NoveList Plus service, including Zen and the Art of Faking It and Roots and Wings. However, even the NoveList database found only 31 results in Teen fiction for the search term “Buddhist,” many of which were not modern, or only peripherally involved the religion. In comparison, when using the same search parameters, there were 944 results for the search term “Christian.” (“Jewish” had 365 results, “Muslim” had 75, and “Hindu” had 31.) There is zero scientific method involved in this brief comparison, but it serves as an illustration of the obvious: Christianity in YA literature, at least in the US, is much more prevalent than any of the other Big Five world religions.

That being said, preparing for this post was quite different from last month, when I had a grand total of two books to enjoy. For the past five weeks, I have read as much modern, non-serialized YA fiction involving Christianity as possible, and in the process, have noticed some trends in the characterizations of Christians. On the one hand, some Christians are portrayed as being fundamentalist and intolerant (to varying degrees), particularly of homosexuality and/or science. However, all but one of the novels I read also had positive portrayals of Christians as being people who live out the positive aspects of the religion and rely on their faith in times of strife. Seems valid to me. Since the pool of novels is so much larger, I have chosen what I think are some of the best of the novels that I read, in no particular order.

Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande
This novel does a fine job of balancing the tension between science and religion, as well as showing the darker side of religion (intolerance and manipulation), side by side with the benefits of faith. I particularly adore the science teacher, Ms. Shepherd.

 

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan
This novel deals more peripherally with Christianity: one of the main characters, Sam, goes to churches because he loves listening to the music there. The other main character, Emily, has a father who is the music minister at one of those churches. Fate (God?) brings them together. Sam’s little brother, Riddle, also happens to be one of my favorite child characters of all time, and Emily’s parents are the kind you rarely see in YA lit: supportive, loving, and fully present.


A Girl Named Mister, a novel written in verse by the fantastic Nikki Grimes
The novel switches between the perspective of a modern teenage girl who finds herself pregnant after one bad decision, and the Virgin Mary as she deals with becoming the mother of Jesus. It’s the most spiritual of all the books I read and is beautifully written.

 

On the dark side of the spectrum is The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams. This novel tells the story of a young girl born into a cult who is chosen to marry her much older uncle. Her father and his wives oppose the marriage, but to no avail, as the new cult leader is corrupt and evil. I came away from the novel with a turmoil of emotions: the main character loves her family dearly — all of her siblings, her father, her mother and her father’s other wives. The evil of the leadership of the cult is black and white, but the lifestyle of the people living there is left in much more of a gray area.

Two other honorable mentions are Saving Grace by Katherine Spencer and Donut Days by Lara Zielin. Both novels deal with teenage girls struggling with their beliefs. Saving Grace focuses on the role of faith after loss (and includes an interesting supernatural twist), while Donut Days focuses on being the daughter of not one, but two, pastors of a church in turmoil.

I know I missed a ton, considering there are at least (approximately) 938 more books out there. Let me know which ones I should have on my TBR list.

Next time: Hinduism.

– Whitney Etchison, currently reading Beautiful Creatures by Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia (because she visited our school yesterday and is AWESOME)

Previously: Buddhism

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8 Responses
  1. September 18, 2012

    Whenever I think of Christianity in YA fiction, I think of Madeline L’Engle’s books. They don’t feel preachy to me, but are about the larger sense of connection in the universe. I haven’t read any of the books listed above; definitely going on my TBR list!

  2. September 18, 2012

    I’m really enjoying this series of posts! I just added several of these to my to-read list.

  3. Liz permalink
    September 18, 2012

    I like the portrayal of religion in Neal Shusterman’s Unwind series. People may do bad things in the name of God (like turning their child into a living organ donor,) but that doesn’t mean that God really condones the actions. Shusterman depicts religious people doing bad things, mostly Christians but other relgions too, and religious people doing good things.

  4. September 19, 2012

    Glad I could be of help! I’m just curious with this list as to the publishers, and in general am wondering if you looked at content/quality/style and whether it differed between regular publishers and publishing houses that say outright that they publish Christian fiction or spiritual books or whatever the case may be.

    • Whitney Etchison permalink
      September 26, 2012

      Sorry for the delayed response. I did not specifically look at publishers when developing my list. My guess is that few, if any, of the publishers of the books in this post are specifically geared to Christian/spiritual fiction. Honestly, I avoided reading any books that I knew were labeled as “Christian fiction,” partially because many of them tend to be published in longer series, and I’m staying away from that in my posts. Also, I went for books that were available to me from the library where I work/the nearby public library, and neither have many Christian Fiction titles for teens.

      Thanks for your comment and question.

  5. Rob permalink
    September 19, 2012

    Some good books with interesting looks at how Christianity is incorporated into the personal identities of LGBT youth are Mark Hardy’s “Nothing Pink,” Alex Sanchez’s “The God Box,” Robin Reardon’s “Thinking Straight,” and “Boy Meets Boy” even has some interesting Christian dynamics involving a secondary character. Just some suggestions based on research for my thesis (https://circle.ubc.ca/handle/2429/37866.) Anyway, I’ll have to take a look at your suggestions now (except for “Evolution…” since I already read–and loved!–it).

    • Whitney Etchison permalink
      September 26, 2012

      Thanks for the book recommendations. The only one I’ve read is “Boy Meets Boy,” which is a great read, and would definitely have fit into my post. Your thesis looks fascinating!

  6. Shelley permalink
    October 25, 2012

    There’s also Sara Zarr’s Once Was Lost about a preacher’s daughter who doubts her faith while at the same time dealing with a friend being kidnapped.

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