Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Pulling Back the Veil, a #FSYALit discussion of CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert, part II

Earlier today Ally Watkins discussed the concept of Hidden Things in her brilliant and slightly spoilery post on CONVICTION. I am going to discuss the book some more in a HUGELY INCREDIBLY SPOILERY POST SO IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT YET GO READ IT AND THEN COME BACK.

I’m serious: A huge major spoiler will occur because this is not a book review but a book discussion.

***Seriously. Spoilers. Read at Your Own Risk***

convictionAs Ally mentioned, CONVICTION is a pretty brilliant book about hidden things. It is, more specifically, a book about how some people hide behind their faith, pretending to be righteous people to hide the wicked that they are doing in their daily lives.

Although one of the main characters of this book happens to be a Christian hiding behind his Christian faith, the truth is that people of any faith and even of no faith do it.

Sometimes they know about this wickedness. Sometimes they lack the self awareness to really understand that their actions are indeed wicked.

We see examples of this in the current news when we read about what happened in secret in the Duggar home. Or in a Dallas megachurch. Or in the Catholic church, which we read about (brilliantly) in The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely.

Conviction is not about sexual abuse, but it does end up being about abuse, which I was not expecting. You see, Gilbert does something incredibly genius with her writing here in that in the beginning you the reader do not recognize that our main character, Braden, is a victim of physical and emotional abuse by his father because Braden the character does not recognize that he is a victim of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his father. Which is something that is often true for many victims of abuse, which is why CONVICTION is a brilliant and expertly crafted book.

CONVICTION is a book about being deceived, and about deceiving ourselves.

Sometimes self deception is about self preservation. Braden needs to believe in his family because he needs his family to survive. He needs to believe in his faith because he needs his faith and his church to survive, it is part of the core of his identity. It is the ritual and routine of his life as much as baseball is.

CONVICTION moved me in part because along with the slow reveal that Braden is a victim of abuse, I felt that Gilbert authentically captures some of the truths about parental abuse. It’s not black and white, it’s complicated. The abused want – in fact they often need – to redefine and excuse what is happening to them because this is the only family they will ever have. And because the moments in between abuse are full of love and support and caring.

Along with the abusive relationship depicted in BRUTAL YOUTH by Anthony Breznican, I thought CONVICTION was one of the best depictions of the emotional complexity that comes with being a child in an abusive home. In BRUTAL YOUTH, we see a character lovingly pull a blanket over the mother who has just abused her and then go and clean up the broken glass that was just thrown at her. It’s heartbreaking because it is real.

“Warning signs of emotional abuse in children

  • Excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong.
  • Shows extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive).
  • Doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver.
  • Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, throwing tantrums).

Warning signs of physical abuse in children

  • Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts.
  • Is always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen.
  • Injuries appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt.
  • Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home.
  • Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days.” – from HelpGuide.org

For many kids in abusive homes, there are no easy answers and there is no easy way out. They do still love their parents and either lie to themselves or others to cover up the abuse at home. Part of it is to protect themselves emotionally, denial can be a great coping mechanism until it isn’t. But part of it is to protect themselves from becoming a part of the system because no matter how bad things may be at home, it can often be less scary then becoming a part of the child protective services system.

CONVICTION is about Braden, but it is also about many of the teens we work with in our libraries every day. Sometimes we will never know about what is hidden in their homes. Sometimes they tell us. But it’s always important for us to remember that are tweens and teens are often dealing with things that are unimaginable and extend them a bit of grace, recognizing that the library may be their safe space, that you may be the only adult who says a kind, caring word to them on that day.

Reading books is, I feel, a window into other lives. Part of our goal is to read stories about people like us and find hope and healing and have our stories affirmed. Part of our goal is to read stories about people different than us to learn more about our fellow human beings, to grow in wisdom and compassion, and to understand the challenges that those around us may be facing. Whatever your reason may be for reading CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert, I think she really captures a wide variety of heartbreaking truths about the human spirit and condition, whether you are a person of faith or not, and it is well worth reading. I know it has really stuck with me.

About CONVICTION:

“Ten years ago, God gave Braden a sign, a promise that his family wouldn’t fall apart the way he feared.

But Braden got it wrong: his older brother, Trey, has been estranged from the family for almost as long, and his father, the only parent Braden has ever known, has been accused of murder. The arrest of Braden’s father, a well-known Christian radio host, has sparked national media attention. His fate lies in his son’s hands; Braden is the key witness in the upcoming trial.

Braden has always measured himself through baseball. He is the star pitcher in his small town of Ornette, and his ninety-four-mile-per-hour pitch al- ready has minor league scouts buzzing in his junior year. Now the rules of the sport that has always been Braden’s saving grace are blurred in ways he never realized, and the prospect of playing against Alex Reyes, the nephew of the police officer his father is accused of killing, is haunting his every pitch.

Braden faces an impossible choice, one that will define him for the rest of his life, in this brutally honest debut novel about family, faith, and the ultimate test of conviction.” (Publisher’s Book Description. Published May, 2015 by Disney-Hyperion)

Hidden Things: A #FSYALit discussion of the book CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert, a guest post by Ally Watkins

About Conviction:
Ten years ago, God gave Braden a sign, a promise that his family wouldn’t fall apart the way he feared.

But Braden got it wrong: his older brother, Trey, has been estranged from the family for almost as long, and his father, the only parent Braden has ever known, has been accused of murder. The arrest of Braden’s father, a well-known Christian radio host, has sparked national media attention. His fate lies in his son’s hands; Braden is the key witness in the upcoming trial.

Braden has always measured himself through baseball. He is the star pitcher in his small town of Ornette, and his ninety-four-mile-per-hour pitch al- ready has minor league scouts buzzing in his junior year. Now the rules of the sport that has always been Braden’s saving grace are blurred in ways he never realized, and the prospect of playing against Alex Reyes, the nephew of the police officer his father is accused of killing, is haunting his every pitch.

Braden faces an impossible choice, one that will define him for the rest of his life, in this brutally honest debut novel about family, faith, and the ultimate test of conviction. (Publisher’s Book Description, Published May 2015 by Disney-Hyperion)

#FSYALit Roundtable: 5 YA Authors Talk About Faith, Teens and YA Literature, part II

Yesterday, we shared with you the first part of our YA lit Roundtable with authors Kelly Loy Gilbert, Bryan Bliss, Anthony Breznican, Stacey Lee and Aisha Saeed. Today we are honored to share the conclusion of that roundtable discussion on faith and spirituality in YA lit with you.

Did you worry about writing critically about aspects of faith (if you did)?

Aisha Saeed: Absolutely. There is always fear when you address something with a critical eye that people may become offended or upset. While Naila’s faith has no bearing on what happened to her, the fact that she is Muslim may cause people to equate the practice with her faith. I was also nervous about showing how the “it’s your destiny” rationalizations can keep people stuck in bad circumstances. Ultimately though, I believe these issues need to be talked and examined critically if we want to see change happen. I think creating Naila, a Muslim character, who doesn’t believe her circumstances stemmed from religion is important. I also believe it’s important to examine and question how people use predestination as a means to silence dissent. While it’s not the most comfortable conversation to have perhaps, we have to talk about these things if we want to change thinking.

Kelly Loy Gilbert: My faith is what gives me hope for the world and what shapes all my beliefs about love and truth social justice; it’s incredibly important to me.  But I have characters who wield religion as a weapon and twist it to their own ends, and of course I hope that won’t be read as some kind of blanket criticism leveled against faith.

Bryan Bliss: I kind of already got at this above, but the simple answer is: no. If you believe in something greater than yourself – God – and you’re afraid to pull back the drapes and reveal some of the dirt… well, that doesn’t bode well for your divine being, I think. I realize that sounds kind of snarky, but how else can you see it? I personally don’t believe in a God that’s afraid of questions or even criticism. Hell, the Bible is filled with stories of people who make mistake after mistake – who wrestle with God. It feels like good company, even if it means getting your hip broken…

Anthony Breznican: In my book, we have a crooked, thieving priest, and a nun who means well but is misguided by compromise. Father Mercedes is unmistakably twisted, but to me Sister Maria is a hero. I would hate if people saw them as some sort of slam on the faith, although they are definitely a criticism of a powerful organization that could do a lot of good when it’s not obsessively protecting itself. But there are many wonderful people who do contribute to the world in positive, generous, and kind ways under the auspices of the church, and I don’t want to besmirch their good deeds. I only wanted to say we have to be careful when trying to do good, because it’s very easy to end up going the other direction.

Have aspects of your books been considered controversial?  What are your thoughts on that?

Anthony Breznican: I have had a few teachers in Catholic schools says that the hazing in my book, and the insidious cruelty that accompanies it, would never happen at their school. They say things like, “We have hazing, but it’s not nearly that bad.” And all I can think is, yeah, you’d fit in great at my fictional school, where the adults tell themselves lies like that every day. Someone else said my book was hate speech against Catholics. That’s utter nonsense. I think the heroes of the book, both the kids and the adults, are the ones who truly uphold the tenets of the faith by using their station to help and protect others — not just themselves.

Bryan Bliss: I wouldn’t say it’s controversial. It’s hard to defend Brother John – the radio preacher – in any way. Mostly, people seem to get really worked up by the parents and their decision. But like anything religious, I’m sure there’s something in there that could offend someone!

Kelly Loy Gilbert: I think some of mine might be, because ultimately it’s a book about complicated, flawed humans who make difficult choices–in some cases, choices that go directly against things they publicly believe.  But I think it’s important to read stories that ask for empathy and compassion even when it feels difficult to give.

What do you wish you saw more of in YA lit about the spiritual lives of teens?

Aisha Saeed: I think that there must be space in YA literature for characters who have faith as an integrated part of their life. This is the reality for so many teens and should be reflected. Such books should not be shelved into “special sections” as being “religious literature” because as humans we do not section off the different components of who we are, and faith is often a big part of who a person is and what makes them tick. Stacey Lee’s novel Under A Painted Sky does an excellent job of weaving in faith alongside a compelling story. This should be explored not in special books focused on just the topic of faith but in any book in which faith plays a role in how a person operates.

Anthony Breznican: I think it’s interesting to see more YA with people who have faith in the ideas that a religion puts forth, even if they don’t have faith in the religion or the people who oversee it. I think we need to separate the idea of “right from wrong” from particular clubs. No one group has a monopoly on decency and kindness.

Bryan Bliss: Real teenagers facing real questions of faith. It doesn’t even have to be the plot of the book, honestly. But there’s a lot of teenagers who need a guide through their questions. I can think of no better guide than young adult literature.

About the Books

Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Ten years ago, God gave Braden a sign, a promise that his family wouldn’t fall apart the way he feared.

But Braden got it wrong: his older brother, Trey, has been estranged from the family for almost as long, and his father, the only parent Braden has ever known, has been accused of murder. The arrest of Braden’s father, a well-known Christian radio host, has sparked national media attention. His fate lies in his son’s hands; Braden is the key witness in the upcoming trial.

Braden has always measured himself through baseball. He is the star pitcher in his small town of Ornette, and his ninety-four-mile-per-hour pitch al- ready has minor league scouts buzzing in his junior year. Now the rules of the sport that has always been Braden’s saving grace are blurred in ways he never realized, and the prospect of playing against Alex Reyes, the nephew of the police officer his father is accused of killing, is haunting his every pitch.

Braden faces an impossible choice, one that will define him for the rest of his life, in this brutally honest debut novel about family, faith, and the ultimate test of conviction.

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.

 

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

This beautifully written debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican

Three freshmen must join forces to survive at a troubled, working-class Catholic high school with a student body full of bullies and zealots, and a faculty that’s even worse in Anthony Breznican’s Brutal Youth

With a plunging reputation and enrollment rate, Saint Michael’s has become a crumbling dumping ground for expelled delinquents and a haven for the stridently religious when incoming freshman Peter Davidek signs up. On his first day, tensions are clearly on the rise as a picked-upon upperclassmen finally snaps, unleashing a violent attack on both the students who tormented him for so long, and the corrupt, petty faculty that let it happen. But within this desperate place, Peter befriends fellow freshmen Noah Stein, a volatile classmate whose face bears the scars of a hard-fighting past, and the beautiful but lonely Lorelei Paskal —so eager to become popular, she makes only enemies.

To even stand a chance at surviving their freshmen year, the trio must join forces as they navigate a bullying culture dominated by administrators like the once popular Ms. Bromine, their embittered guidance counselor, and Father Mercedes, the parish priest who plans to scapegoat the students as he makes off with church finances. A coming-of-age tale reversed, Brutal Youth follows these students as they discover that instead of growing older and wiser, going bad may be the only way to survive.

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

This heart-wrenching novel explores what it is like to be thrust into an unwanted marriage. Has Naila’s fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny?

Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.

A special thank you to Kelly Loy Gilbert for organizing this roundtable and to all our authors for participating.

For more of the #FSYALit Posts you can go here

 

#FSYALit Roundtable: 5 YA Authors Talk About Faith, Teens and YA Literature

As part of the Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit (#FSYALit) Discussion, author Kelly Loy Gilbert put together a fabulous roundtable discussion between several YA authors. We’re going to present this roundtable to you in two parts. In part I, our authors talk a little bit about the role that faith plays in their lives and in their YA titles. In part II, we’ll talk about some of the more controversial elements, what it’s like to be critical of your faith and then introduce you to their books.

Participants:

Kelly Loy Gilbert, author of CONVICTION

Aisha Saeed, author of WRITTEN IN THE STARS

Bryan Bliss, author of NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES

Stacey Lee, author of UNDER A PAINTED SKY

Anthony Breznican, author of BRUTAL YOUTH

What role does faith play in your book?

Anthony Breznican: Faith is the heart of Brutal Youth. This is a book takes place at a deeply troubled Catholic high school, with three newcomers trying to survive in a kind of law-of-the-jungle social order — hazing, manipulation, deceit rule the halls. These are tools the powerful wield to maintain their position, and our heroes — Davidek, Stein, and Lorelei — try to protect themselves without losing who they are. (They don’t always succeed.)

But really, I see the book as an exploration of all kinds of faith. One, there’s the traditional belief in a benevolent God who will protect you if you are virtuous. Two, there’s faith in our superiors — parents, teachers, priests. We trust them. We count on them to do what’s right. But how often do we find that faith misplaced?

Brutal Youth dives into that idea that we can’t live without putting our faith in others, in believing in something greater and better than ourselves. But if we put that faith in the wrong people, or we expect God to step in and save our asses — we can lose everything. It’s the story of a Catholic school, but I took inspiration from a Jewish proverb I learned in school: “If I don’t stand for myself, who will stand for me? But if I stand only for myself, what am I?”

In the end, these kids learn to trust their own sense of right and wrong. They believe in themselves, which I think is what God wants of all of us — a strict moral compass, guided toward compassion.

Aisha Saeed: Written in the Stars explores the life of a teenager, Naila, who is thrust into a forced marriage. Naila is Muslim and while this practice is condemned by her faith many do equate the practice of forced marriage with Islam. In the novel Naila never blames religion for her circumstances.  For Naila, her faith is a source of comfort that reassures her during difficult moments such as when she hears the call to prayer, adhan. She finds peace and comfort in her faith.

Still, even with the problem of forced marriage framed as a cultural one, religion runs like an undercurrent through the novel, unspoken but present. The fact remains, unspoken or not,  readers may see her predicament as stemming from religion. For this reason I addressed it in a bit more detail in my author’s note at the end.

Naila’s faith also plays a role in her staying in her marriage.  Once she is married, her cousin and even her husband, dissuade her from trying to leave her marriage by telling her it is written in the stars, it is kismet. This belief has both cultural and religious underpinnings, and while this breaks Naila’s heart, it is this line of arguing that her marriage was divinely destined that ultimately makes Naila think that she must stop from trying to fight her circumstances.

Stacey Lee: Religion plays a huge role in UNDER A PAINTED SKY. Samantha my main character is raised in New York with a Christian upbringing (her father was adopted by French missionaries).  Though he was a practicing Christian, her father lived in China long enough to be indoctrinated into their system of beliefs, including the idea that we are born to a fate.  He has passed this two prong system of beliefs down to his daughter. It’s not unlike what many Asian Americans face everyday – in reconciling the old and new, a hybrid system of beilefs often results.  When Sammy’s father dies, she decides she’s no longer speaking to God who had the power to save her father.   Contrast that with Chinese philosophy where the only one to blame would be luck and misfortune.   Her Chinese philosophy never really goes away unti the very end, where she says, quite unequivocally, I reject Fate, and puts herself in God’s hands again.

Kelly Loy Gilbert: In CONVICTION, 17-year-old Braden is forced to question everything he’s ever held true when his father, a conservative Christian talk show celebrity, is accused of murdering a police officer in a possible hate crime.  Braden’s faith is really central to who he is, and as the story progresses he faces a harrowing choice that will test his every belief.

Bryan Bliss: NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES is the story of Abigail and her attempts at keeping her family together after the end times have not come as promised. Right away, I knew this story wasn’t going to be like a lot of the other so-called “cult” books out there. I was interested in Abigail’s relationship not only to her faith, but also to her family. The two, in my opinion, are rarely separate. Especially when your family has sold everything and moved across the country in anticipation of the end times… I wanted to go deep on what it means to believe, to unpack as much of that process as I could while still telling a story about their family.

Did you base anything on your own experiences?  What is your spiritual background like? What drew you to writing about faith/spirituality/religion?

Stacey Lee: Most definitely I drew on my own experiences for the Christian upbringing.  My parents weren’t really in tune with their Chinese backgrounds – they are very Americanized themselves.  It was really my inlaws who showed me the ‘traditional Chinese way’ and by the way, there’s not just ‘one’ way but several philosophies that inform Chinese life: Confucionism, Buddhism, Taosim,, etc.  To be human is to struggle with ourseles and our religions, those belief systems that govern right and wrong. What better way to show that struggle by fraiming it within the context of a girl faced with tremendous loss, and trying to understand if her life matters anymore without her father by her side.

Aisha Saeed: Growing up some of my friends felt pressured to stay in unwanted marriages because they were told the marriage was preordained. I am Muslim and I believe in destiny but I don’t agree with using it as a cultural tool to convince people to stay in bad circumstances. As a Muslim I wanted to be the one to explore both the concept of destiny and forced marriages because in a world where Islamaphobia is drastically on the rise the distinction between culture and faith is an important one for me.

Kelly Loy Gilbert: I grew up with family ties to a Chinese church in San Francisco, but mostly in a heavily Pentecostal church where there was lots of emphasis on speaking in tongues, prophecy, and other spiritual gifts.  I think when you’re young it’s easy for whatever spiritual tradition you’re around to feel like the standard, and I remember what it felt like to be essentially born into an utter certainty that the world worked a certain way––what it was like to be unable to view the world through another lens.  I drew on that experience when writing Braden, who’s also a part of a tight-knit church community, and who for the first time is forced come to terms with the implications of what he’s always believed.

Bryan Bliss: I’m a seminary graduate and spent 10 years working as a pastor. However, when it comes to this sort of fanatical belief – the kind that makes claims about the rapture – I’m pretty ignorant. My own theological views are fairly (okay, wildly) progressive. So that meant a lot of snake handler and end time preacher youtube videos. Getting the words – the passion – correct was key, I thought. I didn’t want to paint this preacher and these parents as simple fanatics. I wanted to know why they believed and what was at stake for them in this belief. That meant not going into knee-jerk mode when it came to their theology, a habit I can easily pick up… especially on Facebook. That doesn’t mean there isn’t bad theology in the world, because there most certainly is. But at the end of the day, I realized that if I was going to tell this story I needed to do it as authentically as possible. And that meant dipping a toe into some ideas that are predatory. Finally – despite my background and education – I’m a highly doubtful and cynical person when it comes to faith. I don’t want to be, but that’s just how it works in my life. I’ve always had a lot of questions, and I think that ultimately helped me write this book from an authentic place.

Anthony Breznican: My actual school was associated with a priest who was literally ripping open collection envelopes and stealing the cash. He claimed he was a descendant of a wealthy family, but blamed all the budget shortfalls on the rotten kids at the high school his parish had to sustain. We were his scapegoats, but eventually he was exposed.

My faith in authority evaporated at an early age. I had teachers who would smack or belittle students — not all, but some. The wonderful, thoughtful teachers only served as a disturbing contrast to the cruel ones. I learned that just because someone is in charge doesn’t make them good, and this was the core of Brutal Youth. Faith and trust is earned, not inherited. Friendship and loyalty are how you prove yourself worthy — not a badge or a collar.

What was challenging about writing about the religious and/or spiritual lives of your characters?  What hang-ups did you have?  How were those aspects of your book received?

Aisha Saeed: I did not want to further cement misconceptions and stereotypes with my novel but I also felt it was a crucial topic to address. As someone who loves her faith and culture, I felt it was important that the hard topic be addressed by someone who wrote from a place of love and not a place of seeking to villainize or stereotype. It can be a fine line to straddle, to address a hard issue but to also give it nuance and complexity, I hope I did it justice.

Anthony Breznican: I did not want to disparage the Catholic faith. I believe in a higher power, I pray, I trust that there is some sort of plan for me, and I’m grateful for all that I’ve been given in life. I have a lot of questions and about God and what may exist after this life, but I’m willing to accept that some things may simply be beyond my understanding. In writing Brutal Youth, I didn’t want to attack the idea of Catholic school exclusively, or to cast aspersions on the religion. Many people get comfort and love through the church, and although I was telling a savage story about corrupt authority, I feel Brutal Youth could take place anywhere there is unquestioned power, like a military school.

Bryan Bliss: Oh, Lordy. I get e-mails and messages that basically fall into two different camps. First: “You’re bashing the Bible. What’s your problem?!” Second: “You’re not critical enough of the parents! Bash the Bible!” I kind of love that, though. It means I did my job well. And for a long time, before I wrote this book, I would’ve been worried about such a response. What will the people in my church think? Oh no, I said shit five times on this page… That sort of thing. But I think most people who are interested in faith want books and films that accurately represent what it means to struggle theologically. And that means real questions, real struggles – real people who say shit and, um, other words. Of course, the Christian book industry is a testament to the fact that there is a market for easy stories where people never curse or ever have sticky thoughts. But I think it’s a misnomer to think that you can’t question religious beliefs, that it somehow doesn’t have a place in a life of faith. If anything, that’s a way literature is – and should be – in conversation with religion. It’s a place to test out questions, to maybe even find answers that can temporarily give us a little peace.

To be continued tomorrow . . .

Find all of the #FSYALit Posts here