Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Fear of God in YA Lit

In preparation for the launch of Between on June 1, I have been contacting YA book bloggers to set up reviews and interviews. Many of them have a Review Policy noted (which is sooooo helpful) to help authors and publishers know what types of books they'll accept for review.

I've come across several (say dozens) that don't accept books with religious themes or tones.

I find this curious, since I have come across only one or two who specifically note that they won't take books with mature sex scenes. Most of those have been tweens who note that their parents read the blog.

There have been countless blogs about sex in YA (how much is too much, should it happen on the page or off, should there be consequences, what about protection, etc...). There hasn't been nearly as much talk about issues of faith, though I would wager that most kids have to come to terms with where they stand on religion, too.

There was a Twitter #yalitchat session not too long ago on this very topic (faith in YA). I loved the interaction and the thoughts expressed by those tweeting. It was a great chat and something we should talk about more often.

I'd love to see issues of God, faith, spirituality and religion as a part of a teen's coming of age experience be poured into YA books and accepted by readers (and bloggers). Let's not be afraid of talking about God anymore than we're afraid of talking about sex in YA. Everyone will have a different opinion, and that's a good thing as long as we're respectful and kind.

What do you think about the topic of faith in YA books?


  1. Interesting post. Finding religion was (and is) what defined my teenage years, and I know the same is true of many other teens. One of the first questions I asked when I became active in the YA community was about religious YA and if there was a market for it, because I didn't know of any religious YA books, and only a few which discuss faith at all.

    I understand why book bloggers wouldn't want to review a book about religion, and I imagine (though I can't know) the reason is more often that they do not want to offend anyone than it is that they're uncomfortable. Sex can certainly make people uncomfortable, and though people can have different opinions about, I think it's much harder to offend someone in a discussion about sex than it is in one about religion. Personally, as you said, I wish we could all be kind and share our different opinions about everything from faith to sex, and then there would be no reason for anyone to feel offended.

    You know, I've blogged about sex in YA. I haven't blogged about faith in it, and until I read this, I'm not sure it even occurred to me that I could, because it's just nowhere near as prominent as sex.

  2. Personally, I don't want to read books that "preach" at me - about anything, though. Faith, diets, whether you think the sky is blue or chartreuse. If a book is constantly throwing a message in your face... well, that just doesn't appeal to me much. Again, about anything. If a book feels like an author is just trying to tell me what *I* should think or feel... it seems like that's not telling the story, you know?

    But as a character trait or even plot, nah, that's completely fine. Like in Tyger Tyger by Kersten Hamilton the characters have a very strong faith and that's done SUPER well. I quite liked that, actually. And it's also a very strong part of The Miracle Girls, and again, handled very well. Basically, as long as it's done well, I don't mind anything in a book :P YA or otherwise.

    Personally, my characters aren't usually religious. This mostly has to do with me not being, and I think that's okay to have in YA, too.

    When I started typing, I had more of a point, but I sort of lost my train of thought, so I'm just going to send this now XD

  3. Personally I think that there is a huge elephant in the room regarding religion in America, and people don't want to get into it. It's that the number of people who are actually atheist or agnostic is far higher than the number who will admit to it. America still so clearly looks down its nose at non-religious folks that its only natural that many will pretend to be religious even when they aren't.

  4. I think sex in YA gets talked about (and portrayed) more than faith because teenagers are more likely to be affected by sex than faith. While most teenagers, almost universally, do worry about how to attract someone they like, how far is too far to go with them, whether everyone else is having sex and they're not, I'm not sure many have a crises of faith. I wouldn't mind reading about a character whose faith was just another facet of their life, but I wonder how many books could be written about a religious theme as you suggest without sounding preachy.
    - Sophia.

  5. It's really interesting that you posted this. I've been thinking about this same topic this week. I'm a Christian by choice and I've been a Christian for a number of years -- before my teenage years and all the way through it. I'm not 28, but looking back on those years, ESPECIALLY teen years, I can see the struggles I've been through trying to figure out how God fit into my identity as a person and also fashioning a world view around faith and how I live my life.
    I also had a lot of adjusting to do in how I related to people who did not share my faith.

    I'd love to see faith handled differently than I've seen -- that is, being a lifestyle and not a form of oppression or a clutch. I'd also love to see it handled just as any other topic, because what a person believes really does fashion who they are later in life.

  6. I think YA lit world does have a particular view of religion. From somewhat limited observations, I'd have to say Christianity is the religion that raises the most flags, particularly when it isn't linked to ethnicity. We seem to be far more accepting of novels that include religion as a part of an ethnic culture than of religion as a part of everyday life. Sara Zarr is probably the writer I am most familiar with who makes religion a part of her character's life. This would be an interesting discussion to have with her.

  7. Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments. What a great discussion!

  8. I think that it would be great to see more books that have faith as a part of a character's experience in YA. I agree that preachy books just aren't interesting, and there are a lot of them, but I know (hope) that there are books out there that deal with faith in a way that is authentic as any other topic. I honestly just think publishers and the public in general are not as open to that because it is such a potentially divisive issue that they don't want to risk it.

  9. Being a vaguely militant atheist, I honestly don't mind a lack of religion in the YA. I get offended when things are preaching at me and would probably be somewhat displeased if I saw my younger brother reading something super preachy. (He being much more likely to be reading YA than I)
    If it subtle, I suppose I might less. Although all that is coming to mind is C.S. Lewis and that isn't so much faith as it is allegory.

  10. I'd happily review it if it was offered to me! I saw this on another bloggers site and it sounds pretty awesome. Religious themes don't bother me much, I find it strange that some bloggers don't read stuff with religious themes in...

  11. I like this post - youve touched on a topic that i think more people should address. I have teenagers ( HELP!) and defn questions of God, belief systems, religion, faith and more are all tumbling around in their heads AS WELL AS sex it makes sense to me to have it in their books too. Im not a regular bk reviewer - just a writer and blogger who LUSTS for reading material all the time. I have a Pacific audience /followers - I would love to review your book on my blog and introduce it to my side of the world!