Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Top 10: ‘Cause You Gotta Have Faith (a flashback post)

Happy Easter! For many people, today is an important religious holiday. So today I thought I would share this flashback post on the spiritual lives of teens with you.  Have a great holiday, however you choose to celebrate it.

Faith is a tricky business. As a child and teen, your parents want you to adopt their faith, which makes sense because it is what they believe in their heart of hearts to be true.  And yet, teens are on the pathway to individuality and adulthood and forming their own identity, which includes determining what they think about their faith.
Faith, or spirituality, is a journey.  It’s not even a straight line journey but a journey full of peaks and valleys and forks in the road.  To help guide them on their journey, many people choose to read Inspirational (sometimes called Christian) fiction.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s review of Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams, I have always found it personally difficult to read Christian fiction.  With the emphasis being on the Christian message – and being “appropriate’ – it often fails to develop accurate, complex characters.  The message can over take the story and the plot in heavy handed ways.  As a reader, I prefer nuance over anvils. (Caveat: this is not always true, just a generalization.)

One of the most profound spiritual experiences I have had this year as a reader has actually been while reading the GLBTQ book Ask the Passengers by A. S. King.  You can read about it here.  But what you don’t know is that I e-mailed A. S. King after reading this book and told her personally about how it spoke to me about my faith and the nature of God and how it reminded me how much God loves every person.  Every. Single. One. Of. Us. I was so thankful to read this book and be enriched not only as a human being, but as a person of faith.

That is also part of the beauty of Waiting.  Here are people that have supposedly done everything right and out of a deep abiding faith, but their lives spiral out of control and in the end they have to decide how this unravelling fits in with their spiritual beliefs.  They must also decide whether or not they can come back to that belief, even if it is in different ways.

Here is where it behooves us to remember that some of the greatest books about faith and the spiritual life were not written and published as “Christian fiction” or “Inspirational fiction”, but as science fiction, fantasy and more.  Think of writers like C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle and Chaim Potok (My Name is Asher Lev).  The truth is that although our faith and spirituality may be the underpinning of who we are and how we live our lives, we still must live our lives in the context of a very real world.  (One of the best nonfiction titles I have ever read is Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle, I highly recommend that you read it.)

And of course we must remember that when we discuss faith and spirituality, we are talking about more than just the Christian faith.  And sometimes, in the end, our main characters decide that they have no faith at all – just as some of our teens do.  And that is where authors take us on a real spiritual journey, when they are honest about the reality in which our teens live and understand the nuance of daily living.

So today, I bring you a Top 10 list of books that talk about faith and spirituality but are not necessarily labeled as “Inspirational fiction”.  This list was compiled with help from teen librarians on the Yalsa-bk listserv.

“‘Dear Jesus, dear Jesus.’ This is a sincere prayer. ‘Please let my brother hear me.’ I tell Zach everything.  It’s a repeat, these words, a cry of loneliness.” – Carol Lynch Williams

“Same thing with water towers and God. I don’t have to be a believer to be serious about my religion.”  – Pete Hautman

“To look at the world as it is, study it with the mind God’s given you, and believe: that’s faith. But to hide from hard facts, or hide them from others, because you’re afraid of where they might lead you . . . that’s just ignorance.” – R. J. Anderson
Book 2 in the Faery Rebels series by R. J. Anderson

“Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord, but sometimes it’s hard not to get a jump on it yourself.”  – Robin Brande

“I know a place called New Beginnings, but I don’t think it works quite like that. You can’t just erase everything that came before.” – Sara Zarr

“Belief means nothing without actions” – Rande Abdel-Fattah

“I don’t care if you care, I retorted. But in my religion, we’re taught to admit our mistakes and to apologize for them…Oh, and there’s one other thing I’m sorry about, I added. I should’ve spit in your eye and called you a szhlob weeks ago.” – Amy Fellner Dominy

God’s will. How many times have I heard someone declare their understanding of this thing I find so indefinable?”  – Rae Carson

“What matters more: the high school social order or getting to know someone extraordinary?” – from Goodreads summary

“Could the boy who terrorizes her at school be behind it all? And how can she save the family she is actually growing to love when her fear always leaves her quaking?” – from the Goodreads summary

Some other contenders include:
Armageddon Summer by Jane Yolen
My Name is Not Esther by Fleur Beale
The Island by Gary Paulsen
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson
Running Out of Time by Margaret Petterson Haddix
Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker
Irises by Francisco X. Stork
Days of Little Texas by R. A. Nelson
Shine, Coconut Moon by Nisha Meminger
Thou Shalt Not Roadtrip by Anthony John

What are we missing? Please let us know in the comments.


  1. Lots of fantastic suggestions. I'd also add the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, which deals a lot with spirituality, God, and the universe. It's heavy, but absolutely stunning.

  2. Yes, that is a good title to include. To be honest, I didn't finish The Subtle Knife so I can only speak of book 1, which I did like. Thanks for this reminder.

  3. Saint Training by Elizabeth Fixmer is a very sweet and touching story of a young Catholic girl trying to come to terms with faith, what God expects from her and the changes in her family. The character is a little younger, but I think young teens and tweens will appreciate it. I grew up in a Catholic family and really related to the characters and situations in this book.

  4. Thanks for the rec. I haven't heard of this title until now and appreciate the heads up. Karen

  5. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the last few posts. Thanks for writing them!

  6. A bit of BSP and a recommend of a friend's book: my own CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC, which won the 2006 Sydney Taylor Award, and Donna Frietas' warm, wonderful and funny, THE POSSIBILITES OF SAINTHOOD.

  7. Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed them, they are important to me and I think the teens we serve.

  8. I think Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. could count as religious. Also, a few others I've enjoyed:
    The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
    The Dark Divine by Bree Despain (daughter of a pastor)
    With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo (MG)
    (I did a religious books list a few years ago, but it's pretty out of date now)

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