Teens, Books, and Spirituality (Summer 2013)

The summer 2013 issue of YALS included an article on teen reading, libraries, and books with religious themes. Article author, Margaret Auguste, put together a list of titles for teens with religious themes. Take a look and consider adding them to your collection, if you don’t have them already.

Crossing the Deep, by Kelly Martin
Sixteen year old Rachel Harker, is a Christian girl who goes on a church hiking trip to the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee, expecting it to be picturesque and majestic. Asher Jenkins, who is also attending the trip, is not a Christian and knows that he does not fit in with the rest of the group and yet, he has decided to go along on the trip in order to avoid his difficult personal life. The last thing that he or Rachel expects is that they will both be stranded together in the woods and will have to depend upon each other for survival. Their predicament puts their faith into the forefront as Rachel uses her faith in God to give her strength and Asher, who does not believe in God, is forced to examine what role, if any Faith has in his life.

Perfectly Ridiculous 3: A Universally Misunderstood Novel, by Kristin Billerbeck
Author Kristin Billerbeck, decided upon her spiritual path during college and when she became a writer decided to write books with that viewpoint in mind. The Universally Misunderstood series is a series about a Daisy, a Christian girl who calls upon her faith to make decision and as a foundation for her life. In this particular part of her journey, Daisy, is excited for her last summer before college. She has managed to arrange for a trip to Argentina with her best friend Claire to where her boyfriend Max also lives.  However, her plans are ruined when she discovers she has to complete mission work in order to qualify for college. Her parents accompany her and instead of the romance she has planned for she comes in contact with scorpions and has to sleep on a cot. Daisy worries about not being the daughter her parent’s wanted because she looks for a path in life that is much different than what her parents want for her, all issues that are confronted and explored during the trip that becomes much more special than she ever thought it would. 

The Obsidian Blade, by Pete Hautman
This book, the first in a series, written by Pete Hautman, the author of Godless, examines faith and spirituality through science fiction. Tucker’s father, the reverend Adrian Feye, suddenly disappears from their home. He returns with a strange girl behaving totally different. He no longer believes in God. Tucker’s mother has also changed in a way that cannot be explained. Time travel, exotic locations, different dimensions, ancient cities and forests all come together as a backdrop in which religion, spirituality, history and science are explored in a thoughtful and imaginative manner.

Ten Things I Hate About Me, by Randa Abdel-fattah
Jamilah Towfeek or Jamie, as she is known at school, is a Lebanese-Muslim teenager, loves her widowed dad, who always takes the time to tell Jamilah about how much he loved her mother. However, he is also very conservative and will not allow her to have any contact with boys, even as friends, which she finds embarrassing and sets her apart from the other students. Identity development depends on the successful combination of social constructs such as culture, and religion, all issues that Jamilah is having a difficult time integrating. Jamilah’s search for her identity is compromised by her desire to fit in at all costs. She attempts to hide from her religion and culture by dyeing her hair blond, wearing blue contacts and by not speaking up when students make racist and hurtful remarks about Muslims in order to, “avoid people assuming I fly planes into buildings as a hobby.” The subterfuge creates even more problems in Jamilah’s life because she can’t really be honest with her friends or with her dad. The dishonesty is apparent when the band she plays in at her Madrassa or her Islamic school is hired to play at her school dance forcing to confront her misrepresentation to her friends, family and most importantly to herself.

Where the Streets had a Name, By Randa Abdel-Fattah
The conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians come to life through the story of Hayaat, a young Palestinian girl, who is on a mission to retrieve a handful of soil from Jerusalem, the land where her beloved Grandmother, Sitti Zeynab was born. She had to described to Hayaat, for the first time, about her former home in Jerusalem she had to leave in 1948. All Sitti Zeynab wants is to die in her homeland or to at least see it one last time. After she collapses, Hayaat determines that she will go to Jerusalem to bring back a piece of her Grandmother’s land for her. Curfews, checkpoints and the wall that divides the West Bank are all obstacles that Hayaat must overcome in order to make her Grandmother’s wish come true. Hayaat’s adventures teach that she has a choice in her life no matter how limited her life seems. She states that, “there is a difference between surviving and living and that the key is that, “we must live with a purpose.”

The God Box, by Alex Sanchez
Paul has been hiding for most of his life. His girlfriend, his friends and his family have no idea that he thinks that he is gay, something that he cannot reconcile with the fact that also is a Christian. “Doesn’t the Bible forbid homosexuality?”

However, after Paul meets Manuel, a teenager who inexplicably to Paul states that he is gay and a Christian the feelings that Paul has had to keep hidden for so long finally begin to come to the surface. Manual’s sureness in the idea that the Christian faith does have a place for them both has the power to change Paul’s definition of himself and how his faith relates to his life forever.

Promise Kept: Perry Skky Jr. Series #5, by Stephanie Perry Moore
Perry Skky Jr. is a very popular series about a teenager who uses his faith in God as a guide for the decision he makes in his life. He has the typical problems of many teenage boys that include relationships, sports, school and family. However, he works through his problems with his faith always in the back of his mind. He does not always make the right decisions and often suffers the consequences of making the wrong choices but the struggles are realistic and relevant.

Confessions of a Closet Catholic, by Sarah Littman
Justine is frustrated because she wonders what God’s plan is for her and how she can find it. She prays every night to Allah, God or anyone else that is listening and tries out different identities by trying out different religions to see which one fits the best. Meanwhile she is attempting to balance attending a new school, making new friends and having her first crush on a boy. Her family is Jewish, but her parents are what Justine refers to as, “twice a year Jews” because they only attend synagogue on the two biggest Jewish holidays of the year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Justine loves and admires her Grandmother Bubbe a Holocaust survivor, who Justine feels is the only family member who understands her. Justine wants to honor her by exploring Judaism more by keeping Kosher. However, her family scoffs at her idea calling it, “superstitious nonsense.” Undaunted, Justine continued to investigate other religions like Islam, which she is surprised to learn, has much in common with Judaism. She also explores Buddhism and Hinduism before she finally decided to settle on Catholicism.

She keeps her decision a secret by making her closet into a confessional where she confesses to her idea to the teddy bear that she has transformed into a Catholic priest by putting a black scarf on its head. However, after Justine’s family, when they discover what she has done they are appalled by her actions. She also feels as though she has betrayed her Grandmother, when she suddenly has a stroke and subsequently dies.

A letter written for Justine by her Grandmother before her death put her struggles into perspective. In the letter her Grandmother, explains that, “We get angry at God because we aren’t able to see the tapestry of his plan, but that faith keeps us going when we want to give up.” Justine’s grandmother also reaffirms her confidence that Justine’s search, whether it leads her to Catholicism or Judaism was her choice to make and her choice only.

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