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Religion in YA Books • Dive Into Diversity

Each Sunday, I found myself driving down the back roads of our small town with my grandparents, headed to our tiny Catholic church. I was baptized there and participated as a reader, attended Sunday school, and in high school was confirmed, too. I didn’t really know anything other than Catholicism until my sophomore year in […]

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March 11, 2015 - 11:12 am

Magan - Crystal, that’s awesome! Thank you so much for sharing those book recommendations! I really appreciate it! 🙂

March 6, 2015 - 6:34 pm

Crystal - I found A Time to Dance to be a wonderful exploration of religion and spirituality. I reviewed it here http://richincolor.com/2014/07/review-a-time-to-dance/. Also, the new book Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein has more about religion than I expected. There is a contrast between the Ethiopian church (orthodox) and the Friends (Quakers) that the main characters have been part of in the past.

February 23, 2015 - 11:32 am

Magan - Jamie, thanks SO much for sharing your story and the great recommendations. I haven’t read either of the books you’ve mentioned so I’ll be adding them to my TBR right now. I’m so glad you shared! xoxox

February 23, 2015 - 11:31 am

Magan - Elizabeth, you know what — you’re so right. I definitely haven’t read a lot of books with Jehovah’s Witness. THANK YOU for letting us know about Brown Girl Dreaming! I enjoy how trilogies can explore religion by really making up their own as well. I think it’s a good way to get people thinking about things without being so explicit.

February 23, 2015 - 11:23 am

Magan - Katie, I SO hope you check out the books! And I’m so thankful for your recommendation too. Going to head to Goodreads to check it out! I just don’t understand why there aren’t a ton of religious exploration books out there. I know a lot of teens are questioning this. It felt like SUCH a big deal to me in high school.

February 16, 2015 - 10:03 pm

Katie @ Bookish Illuminations - Magan,

I love this post! This is exactly the kind of discussion I love–religion and spirituality in literature, especially children’s and YA. I agree with you–there isn’t as much religion in YA as I think there should be, and I hope that publishing trend changes in the near future.

I haven’t read any of these books you mentioned, but knowing that they focus on characters struggling with questions of faith and religion makes me me want to check them out. I think being curious about these issues is healthy and reflects a more authentic spirituality.

I would so welcome more YA novels that reflected characters expressing their spirituality/religion or struggling with those big questions in life that we often associate with religion and spirituality.

I always try to tease out any spiritual dimensions I find in the books I review–in a very broad sense–but it’s rare that I find books engaging with religion and spirituality in a more specific way. One book that comes to mind with a clear spiritual dimension and that does engage with religion in a refreshing way is The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis. It’s not YA, but I think YA readers who are mature could read it.

February 15, 2015 - 12:20 am

Alexa S. - Honestly, I love reading about characters who have strong ideals or struggles with religion. It’s a quest that every individual goes through on their own at some point, trying to make sense of things and decide what to believe in. The books you’ve included, particularly Kenneally’s novels, are great examples of books that tackle religion in a way that feels organic, thoughtful and interesting. Would be awesome to read more books featuring all sorts of religion!

February 10, 2015 - 3:46 pm

Elizabeth - This is only fresh on my mind because I just finished Brown Girl Dreaming last night, but she talks a bit about growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness, which is something that I have not ever read about anywhere. It was an experience I appreciated reading about, even though I’m not particularly religious myself. I also enjoyed the role of religion in a couple of fantasy trilogies I’ve read– The Girl of Fire and Thorns series and His Fair Assassin series both features fairly pious main characters, though those religions were fictional ones. But on the whole, religion or spirituality are not very prominent in the books I read.

February 10, 2015 - 3:38 pm

Jamie - I grew up only going to church on Christmas and Easter and sometimes to sunday school with my neighbors and VBS in the summer. Then in 8th grade I started going to youth group at a baptist church with a friend (because of a boy and all the boys certainly made me keep going haha). I stayed and got really involved and then made the decision to go to a Christian college. Between my mom passing away and just my experience AT that college I walked away more confused than ever. So I love seeing religion explored in a way that isn’t like Christian fiction or trying to convert someone. Like truly I feel like wrestling with what you believe in or don’t believe in is a huge part of one’s life experience. Especially in the face of death when you really look at like “hey what do I believe in…will I see them again? Is there nothing after death??” I mean, I get panicky at night STILL wrestling with these things.

So yeah I really love seeing it! And not just Christianity. I love seeing all faiths though obviously Christianity is what I’m most familiar with and can relate to.

I recently read No Parking In The End Times and I thought it dealt with wrestling with your faith really well. The girl believes in God and grew up in the church and then her dad gets involved with this cult-like end time group and through this experience she really reevaluates her beliefs and struggles with if she believes in God at all. It was really thought-provoking though I think if people don’t like reading about people who have faith and are wrestling with it probably won’t enjoy it.

I also read Like No Other by Una LaMarche and that was SUCH a good book and the main character was a Hasidic Jew and I loved how it looked at her religion and her culture and how an event really made her question things!

February 10, 2015 - 1:35 pm

Magan - Valeria, every question you posed in your comment is EXAXTLY what I was thinking here. You are spot on. I really feel like I’m missing out on culturizing myself by not seeing this in my reading. It makes the books less unique, I think, and all of the characters a greater melting pot. I want to learn and grow and be pushed to encounter differences. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

February 10, 2015 - 1:30 pm

Magan - Thank you, Andi! I haven’t read that one by Terra, but fully intend to ass it to my TBR list! Thanks so much for contributing!

February 10, 2015 - 1:29 pm

Magan - Thanks for your comment, Jen! I agree – in mainstream YA I’m not seeing a lot of exploration of other faiths. I don’t temd to read actual targeted Christian fiction from a store like Lifeway. I guess I’m pretty surprised that religion is really skipped over in our young adult books. Even if it’s not the primary focus, couldn’t it play a minor role? I haven’t read those books you listed but I am so intrigued! Thanks for sharing!

February 10, 2015 - 1:25 pm

Magan - Bruna, that’s my point – I’m not seeing a lot of those other cultures and religions well-represented at all. I do understand your point of this not being in every book because some people just really don’t want to read about it. Out of curiosity, have you read any books with any religion aspects you’ve found did a good job incorporating it as part of the discussion without it being the sole focus?

February 10, 2015 - 1:20 pm

Magan - Rachel, you’re so right about HOW TO LOVE. I has forgotten that. Subtle, yes, but still a part of the story. Coming from a catholic background, I fully understood how she would have felt being pregnant and her parents reactions. The story would have felt less complete without that i think. Also, thanks for the sweet comment. I’m really glad you found this interesting!

February 10, 2015 - 1:18 pm

Magan - It really seems to be lacking, Brianna. You bring up a great point about the Holocaust. I haven’t read a book focusing on that time with a religious aspect either.

February 10, 2015 - 11:56 am

Brianna - I can’t think of a single book off the top of my head, YA or otherwise, where religion plays a prominent role (other than memoir). Even Holocaust literature doesn’t really talk about the religious aspects of those peoples’ lives.

February 10, 2015 - 11:55 am

Rachel @ Hello, Chelly - Magan, I love that you wrote about this! I was at a similar crossroads during college (I was brought up Catholic but some of my relatives belonged to a Baptist church). I agree this topic isn’t explored enough in books but I would like to see more of it. One book that did come to mind is HOW TO LOVE by Katie Cotugno. Religion/Catholicism plays a role but a subtle one. But I always find myself thinking of it when I look back on that book (which happens to be one of my all-time favorites). Great post!

February 10, 2015 - 11:30 am

Bruna - Interesting discussion. Religion is not something I see a lot in the books I read, and to be honest, I don’t think is something I would normally seek out. I have struggles with what I actually do believe in and I am already so surrounded by people in real life wanting to push their religions on me that I feel that books are a way to scape that. If is something completely different from my culture, like Islam or other non-Western religions I might be interested; or discussions on atheism or agnosticism. But as far catholicism goes, I just rather do without it.

February 10, 2015 - 10:28 am

Jen Ellision - I wish I had some from other faiths to add, but the only books I can think of that explore faith are of a Christian slant.

I read it a while ago and I believe it’s Christian fiction YA, but if I recall the Lisa Tawn Bergren’s River of Time series had some good exploration on faith… not heavy-handed at all, which has been my problem with some Christian fiction. Plus the series is adorable time travel historical romance YA.

Jackson Pearce’s Purity may have had a little exploration too, but I seem to recall it being more about the character’s relationship with her dad than church…

February 10, 2015 - 9:54 am

Andi - I loved reading Small Town Sinner. I was so intrigued by that kind of subject. One that I read that I really enjoyed was Pure by Terra Élan McVoy. Really interesting look at teens with purity rings, waiting until marriage to have sex and what happens when someone goes against that or you yourself thinks about going against it.

Great post Magan.

February 10, 2015 - 9:20 am

Valeria @ A Touch of Book Madness - I love that you raised these questions. I have to agree with you. Other than Christian fiction which, as the genre suggests, deals with a lot of religious issues, I don’t see it anywhere in YA. I would love to see it reflected, and much like you be able to learn about other beliefs and cultures. People tend to focus on other diversity issues, but religion always seems to be pushed aside. Why is that?

Estelle: Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker

Small Town Sinners by Melissa C. Walker ( web | twitter ) Publication Date: July 19, 2011 Publisher: Bloomsbury Pages: 259 Target audience: Young adult Keywords: religion, prejudices, parents and their children Format read: Borrowed from library Summary: Lacey has been looking forward to auditioning for top billing of her church’s Hell House since as […]

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September 30, 2014 - 11:50 am

Fifteen Must-Read Tough Subject Books - […] Small Town Sinners — discovering one’s own religious beliefs apart from what parents have taught you to believe […]

January 29, 2013 - 3:01 am

Jasmine Rose - I grew up in a small town with the same smalll-minded views. The church I attended liked to believe it was progressive, but homosexuality was viewed as a “hate the sin, not the sinner” thing. It was also kind of a hush hush thing nobody really talked about. Same for all the other major hot button issues. Sadly, growing up in this I shared the same opinions until I started dating my (now) husband. I’m really glad he helped me grow and form my own opinions :]
Also, this book is fantastic!

January 25, 2013 - 6:16 am

Lori - I love this review, Estelle! I went into this book with a lot of trepidation. I’m a very liberal person living in the bible belt, so I feel like I get enough of this stuff on a day to day basis. I found myself really enjoying the book, though. It was nice to see Lacey start her new path.

January 24, 2013 - 2:02 pm

Asheley Tart (@BookwormAsheley) - OH YAY YAY YAY!!!

I absolutely LOVED this book x 1000. I think when I read this last summer I remember tweeting about it and you may have tweeted back that you liked it, Estelle, and I was so happy. I think I may have had a little back-and-forth between a few people about this book because I live in the middle of Hell House country, the Bible-Belt South. I grew up in a place much-like Walker wrote about, with a family almost exactly like Lacey’s. As an adult, I have a faith of my own and I absolutely LOVE the way Walker doesn’t get preachy but still presents this story so accurately. I agree with the above commenter (Kristen) when she mentions that the author wrote with grace and non-judgment. I was a little scared going into it, because I was scared my childhood and what I grew up in would be mocked, but I did not feel that at all. Because of her way of presenting this story and the fact that she *could have* been judgmental about such a topic, I just had such a big respect for her. I read this book and Unbreak My Heart back-to-back and decided that I was absolutely a Melissa C. Walker fan for life.

LOVE this one. So much. I love it even coming from the smack-dab middle of a scene just like it. I grew up in this family, Estelle! They’re still this exact way. These places are pretty huge events around here. I want to have coffee with Melissa Walker and read parts of HER OWN BOOK back to her. That’s how great a job she did with it. I’m totally gushing. I’ll stop now. Yay for your thoughts and yay for this book! 🙂

January 24, 2013 - 12:23 am

Kristen Evey - I’m glad you enjoyed this one. I love how Walker handled everything in this book. I think she wrote the issues with grace and non-judgement, which is something I don’t think I would have been able to do. I come from a very conservative/church background, and most of the things about Lacey and her friends baffled me as well. I’d never heard of hell-houses before this book, but I totally get/relate to a lot of the other stuff in the book. I could also see how for awhile now, like Lacey, I’ve been questioning a lot of things. This was a very thought provoking book for me, and I loved that about it. 🙂 Great review Estelle!

January 23, 2013 - 7:15 pm

Leah - Oh wow.. This sounds like it’d be a tough book for me to read. I have my own beliefs and even though I’d try to keep an open mind, just the Hell House alone would be enough to make me want to walk away.

That said, it does sound like this book would be a great coming-of-age story and I applaud both the character for questioning her beliefs and the author for tackling the subject.

January 23, 2013 - 11:45 am

Cynthia - I tried reading this one and coulnd’t get into it, I think it was all the religion stuff. It sort of pissed me off. Or maybe I was just in a reading slump, that’s happened to me a lot and my views of the books are so different than everyone else’s when I read them during a slump. Now I’m glad I still have this book because your review has made me want to go and give it a second chance. I think I will try reading it again. Thanks for the review Estelle! =D

January 23, 2013 - 10:48 am

Alexa Y. - I love the fact that this books does that ping pong thing where the character has to contend with what she chooses to believe, while considering what she’s been taught growing up and what she’s currently experiencing. That mirrors a struggle that many of us face or have faced or will face, and I think that’s why this book will probably end up resonating with me when I read it.

Great review E! Sounds like this one’s a book I need to check out for sure.