The Big Five (+1) in YA: Atheism and Agnosticism
When I began this series on religion in YA literature, I wasn’t quite sure what I would find. I started with the noble ambition to read as widely as I could in YA literature for every religion, and I managed to do that for Buddhism and Hinduism (at least in part because there were so few choices). Needless to say, I had to reign in those expectations for myself as school got into full swing, and as I delved into Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The bad news is that I didn’t read nearly as many books as I had hoped. The good news is that I now have a TBR list dedicated solely to YA books, both fiction and non-fiction, that feature religion. (If you’d like to view that list of books, click here.)
I am wrapping up this series today with a look at Atheism and Agnosticism, which, as I suspected, are not easy to find in the world of YA literature. While there are tons of books that don’t mention God or faith in any way, there appear to be few that tackle the beliefs of Atheism and Agnosticism head on. In fact, I hesitated to include a few of the books I found because it seemed that they were telling a conversion story, rather than the story of young people who consider themselves to be Atheist or Agnostic. While I understand and appreciate the importance of stories that feature teenage characters searching for faith and finding new beliefs, those aren’t the stories I hoped to include here. Any such qualms about the titles below are included in their descriptions.
Everything You Need to Survive the Apocalypse by Lucas Klauss
Phillip’s father is a hard-core Atheist, but the girl he falls for is active in a Christian church. What’s a “vaguely atheist” boy to do but start going to her youth group? A number of reviews comment on Phillip’s conversion from Agnosticism to Christianity, which made me hesitant to include it in this post.
Blind Faith by Ellen Wittlinger
When Liz’s grandmother dies, her mother is consumed by grief to the point that she can’t get out of bed each day. Then comes the Sunday that her mother decides to attend a Spiritualist church where members claim they can communicate with the deceased, and suddenly Liz has her old mom back. Liz decides to support her mom in this and go with her to church, even though she’s not sure she believes all their claims. Liz’s atheist father, on the other hand, can’t accept his wife’s new beliefs, and Liz is caught between them.
A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt
Sixteen-year-old Simone has always known she was adopted and has grown up in an Atheist household. She now belongs to the Atheist Student Club at her school, and life is going smoothly until her birth mother, Rivka, comes into her life. Rivka was raised as a Hasidic Jew, and Simone must figure out whether to include that part of her heritage in her life.
Godless by Pete Hautman
Teenager Jason Bock decides to invent a new god after getting tired of his parents’ Catholic beliefs. The new religion, based around the town’s water tower, catches on, and suddenly Jason has more on his hands than he bargained for.
Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap
In this graphic novel, Tina is a philosophical 15-year-old who has decided to to keep an existential diary for a school year as a class project. Her mom is atheist, and Tina herself doesn’t know quite what she believes, but she is on a journey to figure out the nature of truth.
As a parting note, I am going to post some stats that I found using the Novelist Plus database. These are similar to other data I have mentioned during this series, but I thought it might be nice to see it all together, along with my search parameters. This is in NO WAY a comprehensive set of data as it uses only one source, but I do think it provides a small snapshot of religion in YA lit.
For each search, I set the limiters to Fiction and Teens (audience). The table below gives my search terms and number of results for each religion. I’ve also included a bar graph for those of us who like visuals.
Comments? Questions? Awesome books that I missed this post? I’d love to hear from you!
— Whitney Etchison, currently reading the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage