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The Spiritual Lives of Teens in YA Lit, a discussion

As often happens, I got into the best conversation on Twitter with fellow librarian Ally Watkins. This one began while we were both reading No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss, which is the story of a family that sells all of their possessions in anticipation of the return of Jesus. So we started discussing the lack of spiritual representation in YA literature. Not the big end time novels, but even those subtle references to the fact that many teens go to church regularly (whether or not it is of their own accord is another discussion). But the truth is, there are a portion of teens who do regularly attend some type of church or faith service. And almost all teens will wrestle with the big faith questions as some time in their life, particularly in the teen years which is a big period for identity exploration and questioning.

 

So Ally and I decided we were going to do a series about faith in YA literature. We wanted to read with the idea that we wanted to explore how often and where faith is explored in YA literature. We also want to read some specific titles (which we outline below) and see how that discussion is handled. We hope that you will join us as we read and talk about faith and spirituality in YA literature. We don’t have a set schedule, we’re just going to be talking about it throughout the year. If you have some title recommendations, please leave a comment for us. We want to make sure we talk about the diversity of spiritual lives out there. And if you would like to join the conversation by sharing a guest post or book review, please email me at kjensenmls at yahoo dot com. I can share with you that author Bryan Bliss (No Parking at the End Times) will be doing a guest post in late January/early February as part of this series.

 

Meet Ally Watkins, MLIS
I’m a youth services librarian in the metro Jackson, Mississippi area. I supervise a staff of 2 and the three of us provide services to kids from birth-18 at a midsized suburban library. On a typical day, I might be doing toddler storytimes, ordering materials for middle graders, or facilitating teen book club! I’ve worked in libraries for 5 and a half year. My reading habits are voracious, but I can stop anytime I want, really. (Guarantee: any time you’re reading this, I’ll have at least 2 books on my person.)  My favorite author is Melina Marchetta, and if she called me and asked me to be her friend, I would quit my job and move to Australia tomorrow. You can follow Ally on Twitter.
Some of the books we will be reading and talking about include:

 

No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss
Abigail’s parents have made mistake after mistake, and now they’ve lost everything. She’s left to decide: Does she still believe in them? Or is it time to believe in herself? Fans of Sara Zarr, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell will connect with this moving debut.Abigail doesn’t know how her dad found Brother John. Maybe it was the billboards. Or the radio. What she does know is that he never should have made that first donation. Or the next, or the next. Her parents shouldn’t have sold their house. Or packed Abigail and her twin brother, Aaron, into their old van to drive across the country to San Francisco, to be there with Brother John for the “end of the world.” Because of course the end didn’t come. And now they’re living in their van. And Aaron’s disappearing to who-knows-where every night. Their family is falling apart. All Abigail wants is to hold them together, to get them back to the place where things were right. But maybe it’s too big a task for one teenage girl. Bryan Bliss’s thoughtful, literary debut novel is about losing everything—and about what you will do for the people you love.

 

Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle
Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed “Rapture,” all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn’t know who or what to believe. With her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, Vivian embarks on a desperate cross-country roadtrip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivan Apple isn’t looking for a savior. She’s looking for the truth.(January 6th 2015 by HMH Books for Young Readers)
Dark Metropolis by Jacyln Dolamore
Cabaretmeets Cassandra Clare-a haunting magical thriller set in a riveting 1930s-esque world.Sixteen-year-old Thea Holder’s mother is cursed with a spell that’s driving her mad, and whenever they touch, Thea is chilled by the magic, too. With no one else to contribute, Thea must make a living for both of them in a sinister city, where danger lurks and greed rules.
Thea spends her nights waitressing at the decadent Telephone Club attending to the glitzy clientele. But when her best friend, Nan, vanishes, Thea is compelled to find her. She meets Freddy, a young, magnetic patron at the club, and he agrees to help her uncover the city’s secrets-even while he hides secrets of his own.Together, they find a whole new side of the city. Unrest is brewing behind closed doors as whispers of a gruesome magic spread. And if they’re not careful, the heartless masterminds behind the growing disappearances will be after them, too.Perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare, this is a chilling thriller with a touch of magic where the dead don’t always seem to stay that way. (2014)

 

The Devil You Know by Trish Doller
Eighteen-year-old Arcadia wants adventure. Living in a tiny Florida town with her dad and four-year-old brother, Cadie spends most of her time working, going to school, and taking care of her family. So when she meets two handsome cousins at a campfire party, she finally has a chance for fun. They invite her and friend to join them on a road trip, and it’s just the risk she’s been craving-the opportunity to escape. But what starts out as a fun, sexy journey quickly becomes dangerous when she discovers that one of them is not at all who he claims to be. One of them has deadly intentions.A road trip fling turns terrifying in this contemporary story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. (June 2nd 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens)
Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook
Perfect for fans of Laurie Halse Anderson and Gayle Forman, Every Last Promiseis a provocative and emotional novel about a girl who must decide between keeping quiet and speaking up after witnessing a classmate’s sexual assault.Kayla saw something at the party that she wasn’t supposed to. But she hasn’t told anyone. No one knows the real story about what happened that night—about why Kayla was driving the car that ran into a ditch after the party, about what she saw in the hours leading up to the accident, and about the promise she made to her friend Bean before she left for the summer.Now Kayla’s coming home for her senior year. If Kayla keeps quiet, she might be able to get her old life back. If she tells the truth, she risks losing everything—and everyone—she ever cared about. (April 21st 2015 by HarperTeen )

 

The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes

Ever since the night of the incident with Luke Willis, the preacher’s son, sophomore Hallelujah Calhoun has been silent. When the rumors swirled around school, she was silent. When her parents grounded her, she was silent. When her friends abandoned her … silent.Now, six months later, on a youth group retreat in the Smoky Mountains, Hallie still can’t find a voice to answer the taunting. Shame and embarrassment haunt her, while Luke keeps coming up with new ways to humiliate her. Not even meeting Rachel, an outgoing newcomer who isn’t aware of her past, can pull Hallie out of her shell. Being on the defensive for so long has left her raw, and she doesn’t know who to trust.On a group hike, the incessant bullying pushes Hallie to her limit. When Hallie, Rachel, and Hallie’s former friend Jonah get separated from the rest of the group, the situation quickly turns dire. Stranded in the wilderness, the three have no choice but to band together.With past betrayals and harrowing obstacles in their way, Hallie fears they’ll never reach safety. Could speaking up about the night that changed everything close the distance between being lost and found? Or has she traveled too far to come back? (February 17th 2015 by HarperTeen )

 

Rumble by Ellen Hopkins

Can an atheist be saved? The New York Times bestselling author of Crank and Tricks explores the highly charged landscapes of faith and forgiveness with brilliant sensitivity and emotional resonance.“There is no God, no benevolent ruler of the earth, no omnipotent grand poobah of countless universes. Because if there was…my little brother would still be fishing or playing basketball instead of fertilizing cemetery vegetation.”

Matthew Turner doesn’t have faith in anything.

Not in family—his is a shambles after his younger brother was bullied into suicide. Not in so-called friends who turn their backs when things get tough. Not in some all-powerful creator who lets too much bad stuff happen. And certainly not in some “It Gets Better” psychobabble.

No matter what his girlfriend Hayden says about faith and forgiveness, there’s no way Matt’s letting go of blame. He’s decided to “live large and go out with a huge bang,” and whatever happens happens. But when a horrific event plunges Matt into a dark, silent place, he hears a rumble…a rumble that wakes him up, calling everything he’s ever disbelieved into question. (2014)

Like No Other by Una LaMarche

Fate brought them together. Will life tear them apart? Devorah is a consummate good girl who has never challenged the ways of her strict Hasidic upbringing.Jaxon is a fun-loving, book-smart nerd who has never been comfortable around girls (unless you count his four younger sisters).They’ve spent their entire lives in Brooklyn, on opposite sides of the same street. Their paths never crossed . . . until one day, they did.When a hurricane strikes the Northeast, the pair becomes stranded in an elevator together, where fate leaves them no choice but to make an otherwise risky connection.Though their relation is strictly forbidden, Devorah and Jax arrange secret meetings and risk everything to be together. But how far can they go? Just how much are they willing to give up?In the timeless tradition of West Side Story and Crossing Delancey, this thoroughly modern take on romance will inspire laughter, tears, and the belief that love can happen when and where you least expect it. (2014)

 

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

When seventeen-year-old Minnow stumbles out of the woods one winter morning, she is haunted and handless and covered in someone else’s blood. She has just escaped the strict religious commune run by a cruel man named the Prophet. In exchange for freedom, she leaves behind her family, her home, and Jude–an outsider boy who changed everything.

But the real world isn’t the sanctuary Minnow imagined. Soon, she gets arrested and placed in juvenile detention. Now, Minnow is being questioned by an FBI psychiatrist about the night she escaped, the same night the Prophet was burned to death in his own home—a murder Minnow may be responsible for.

A modern retelling of the Grimm fairy tale, “The Handless Maiden,” in which the Devil orders a girl’s hands cut off, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is the story of a girl growing out of the wreckage of corrupted faith. (June 9th 2015 by Dial/Penguin)

 

Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens
An edgy, realistic, and utterly captivating novel from an exciting new voice in teen fiction.
Alexi Littrell hasn’t told anyone what happened to her over the summer. Ashamed and embarrassed, she hides in her closet and compulsively scratches the back of her neck, trying to make the outside hurt more than the inside does.When Bodee Lennox, the quiet and awkward boy next door, comes to live with the Littrells, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in “the Kool-Aid Kid,” who has secrets of his own. As they lean on each other for support, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her find the courage to finally face the truth.A searing, poignant book, Faking Normal is the extraordinary debut novel from an exciting new author-Courtney C. Stevens. (2014)
Previous posts on Faith and Spirituality and Teens:

All book descriptions are from the publisher

Comments

  1. Pete Hautman’s EDEN WEST is coming out at the end of April. That book should be on your radar for this discussion.

  2. As an author, and as a person of faith I find this thread fascinating! Thank you for beginning the discussion.

  3. Jen White says:

    Sarah Tomp’s, MY BEST EVERYTHING. Out March 2015. This would be a great book for your discussion.

  4. I recently read In the Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia. It’s a middle grade novel (the protagonist is a fifth grader) but might be germane to this conversation- the protagonist explores what it means to be Muslim and be faithful to Allah and her faith while also just living her life and figuring out school projects and friendships. It also engages with the challenge of how kids handle peers who are more outwardly religious than they are, and the fact that Islam is a large religion with adherents all over the world who have many different customs.

  5. While I’m not sure this fits, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters deals with death and the spiritualism movement in the 1910s during the Spanish Flu epidemic and war. I guess it deals more with spirits though.

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