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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: Things I Can’t Forget by Miranda Kenneally

Things I Can’t Forget by Miranda Kenneally ( tweet | web) Part of the Hundred Oaks series (but can be read as a standalone) Publication Date: March 1, 2013 Publisher: SourceBooks Fire Pages: 304 Target audience: Young adult Keywords: religion, choices, friendship, romance, summer Format read: ARC won from a contest held by the author. (Thank […]

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September 2, 2014 - 9:01 am

A Brave Reminder: On a Personal Note (Book List) - […] Before You by Jo Jo Moyes | Things I Can’t Forget by Miranda Kenneally | Only Everything by Kieran […]

November 26, 2013 - 9:01 am

Racing Savannah by Miranda Kenneally On Tour (Review + Giveaway), Estelle - […] Racing Savannah by Miranda Kenneally ( web | tweet ) Publication Date: December 3, 2013 Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire Pages: 304 Target audience: Young adult Keywords: horses, responsibilities, family obligations, class differences Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. Last book we received by M. Kenneally: Things I Can’t Forget […]

March 10, 2013 - 12:01 am

Rather Be Reading: Magan's Shelve It for March 10, 2013 - […] Requiem by Lauren Oliver + Things I Can’t Forget by Miranda Kenneally (Estelle’s Review) + Sean Griswold’s Head by Lindsey Leavitt (Recommended to me by Lori of Pure […]

March 4, 2013 - 5:12 pm

Magan + Estelle's Shelve It >> 3/3/2013, Estelle + Magan - […] review Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt review Themed Gift Pack: Also Known As by Robin Benway Things I Can’t Forget by Miranda Kenneally […]

February 28, 2013 - 6:06 am

Lori - For some reason I have yet to read one of Kenneally’s books. Sounds like I need to change that NOW! :)

February 27, 2013 - 4:25 pm

Alexa Y. - Oh wow. This sounds extremely appealing to me for some reason, and not just because of the summer camp aspect! I think I may need to dive in Miranda’s work ASAP just so I can read this one sooner :)

February 25, 2013 - 10:18 pm

Sharon @ The Book Barbies - I am SO excited for this one! It sounds so great, and I really liked Catching Jordan. I want to read it even more after reading this review. I keep checking back for either of my library systems to get it in so I can place a hold on it and get it quickly. So far, no luck, but hopefully soon! Obsession can pay off. 😀

February 25, 2013 - 9:24 pm

Vivian - I bought the 1st two books in this series bc everyone says how awesome they are and Miranda is great. I seriously need to read them soon tho! This one sounds like it’ll be just as amazing. Can’t wait to read it. Great review!

February 25, 2013 - 7:52 pm

Jess, Books and Sensibility - I can’t wait for this one to come out ! I started reading Stealing Parker and have found her books to be ideal contemporary novels. I always enjoy a good book about the summer

February 25, 2013 - 7:22 pm

Mary @ My Sisters Bookshelf - I like each book better with her and i am glad to see this review fits the trend! Also, i went to summer camp for 8 years so this book pretty much has to happen for me :)

February 25, 2013 - 6:04 pm

VeganYANerds - I’m so glad to hear that the third book is good! I have books 1 & 2 but I haven’t read them yet, but I am looking forward to the series even more now :)

February 25, 2013 - 2:05 pm

Lena @ Addicted 2 Novels - OMG, I’m dying to read this book, and your review isn’t helping. I’m so glad there are Parker and Jordan sightings and that Will plays a bigger role than I originally thought.

Ahhh, can’t wait to read this!

February 25, 2013 - 11:39 am

elena - Even though I am wary about the religious aspects despite your reassurances it’s not preachy, I really liked this line about the book: Things I Can’t Forget is so much about romance, friendship, and the magic and possibility that summer promises. I like ALL of those things! It sounds like this book really resonated with you & I know it’s definitely made you think. Thanks for the insightful review as always.

February 25, 2013 - 10:31 am

Tara - I have heard so much praise about these books and this author that I’m ashamed I haven’t read them yet :( You might have just sent me over the edge Estelle :)