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#FSYALit: A Recap of the Discussion on Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit, presented by Karen Jensen and Ally Watkins at TLA 2016

Tuesday, April 19th, Ally Watkins and I presented an overview of the #FSYALit discussion (which is ongoing) at the TLA Annual Conference in Houston, Texas. Here are the slides we discussed.

And here are some of our notes:




  • We are white christian women, our voices are very much the least important in this conversation
  • We did speak to titles that spoke to our experiences, but we worked really hard not to have conversations about books that didn’t
  • We sought out guest posters that were part of these religious experiences
  • This project wasn’t about debate IN ANY WAY. One of the things Karen said stuck with me: in discussions about religion, it’s hard not to feel that you’re coming from the right place. This isn’t about what we think or feel.


  • The hub is on the front page of TLT under “projects”


  • Here are the parameters of the projecct


  • Faith and spirituality are two different things, though they are not mutually exclusive.
  • This intersection shown here is what many people think of with regards to their own faith and spirituality.


  • Bryan Bliss wrote NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES, and also did a guest post for us, including comments from his agent Michael Bouret and his editor Martha Mihalick. He talks about the importance of honesty in YA lit, and that includes the inclusion of the faith lives of teens.


  • These statistics only serve to illustrate the importance of this project: if 60% of teens are engaging in some sort of religious activity on a weekly basis, our collections need to reflect their realities.


  • As such, we have to understand that the religious activities of the teens are as varied and diverse as the teens themselves.


  • Some more facts and statistics. While millennials and younger adults may be leaving religion, teens aren’t millennials. Faith is part of many teens’ lives.


  • Obviously, juvenile books are OVERWHELMINGLY focused on Christianity. This is starting to change, but what this means is that we have to be careful in collection development not just to pick up what’s easiest or most readily available. We have to be thoughtful and intentional in picking out books that reflect our community and showcase different beliefs and belief systems.


  • TLT’s own Amanda MacGregor reviewed WHAT IF I’M AN ATHEIST for us and that review can be found on the hub. This is an informational NF book packed with statistics, what-if questions. Easily readable and quick, Amanda said such a book would have made her feel less alone as an atheistic teenager.


  • As neither of us are Buddhist, and we didn’t ever get any Buddhist guest posters, I don’t particularly feel comfortable endorsing any books. These are a couple that have Buddhism as a part of the story, and one that doesn’t.


  • We had a guest post on Catholicism by Katie Behrens and she mentioned the books listed. You can find her book on our hub
  • Boxers and Saints is Gene Luen Yang’s look at the Boxer Rebellion told through two eyes: Little Bao, a Boxer and worshipper of Chinese gods, and Vibiana, a Chinese girl who has found friendship and faith in Christianity.
  • The Opposite of Hallelujah is one of my favorite books on faith. It’s about a teenage girl, Caro, whose sister Hannah is coming home after years of living in a convent. Caro barely remembers her and is unsettled by her presence in her life again. This one is a quiet read about grief, faith, life, and includes a beautiful transfer student, a science-nerd priest who admits he doesn’t have all the answers, and a family who’s just trying to hold it together.


  • Karen and I both write at length about THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND, a story about a girl feeling ostracized from her youth group after an unnamed event that happened sometime in the past. But when she goes on a wilderness trip and gets lost with two other friends, she has to find out what she’s really made of. This one speaks a LOT about church culture, power dymanics, and a lot of other important things.
  • We also talked about CONVICTION, which was a Morris Award finalist. Conviction is Braden, whose father has been accused of a terrible crime. Throughout the book, in the present and in flashbacks, we watch Braden wrestle with what the truth is and what his responsibility is to it.
  • Author Melissa C Walker wrote a post for us about writing a faith (evangelical christianity) that wasn’t her own
  • Librarian Jen Leitch discussed PURITY by Jackson Pearce for us.
  • Librarian Katelyn Brown discussed how she connected with Miranda Keanally’s THINGS I CAN”T FORGET
  • Guest post: I Was a Sixteen Year-Old Jesus Freak (Just Not In the Way You Think) a guest post by Terra Elan McVoy.


  • Author Shveta Thakrar did a post for us about Hinduism in YA, illustrating several titles such as
  • Born Confused, a cross-cultural comedy about a Hindu girl who is appalled that her parents have arranged for her to meet a “suitable boy”…until she actually meets him.


  • We had a guest post about Muslim representation by the AMAZING Kaye…who is now writing her own book about a Muslim family! We are so excited for her
  • Marvel is a comic about a teenage Pakistani-American Muslim girl who gets coated in a weird chemical when she sneaks out one night…and suddenly has superpowers. She has to help people. It’s part of who she is, and that’s rooted in her culture and religious beliefs, also. So she becomes Ms. Marvel.
  • WRITTEN IN THE STARS is about a Muslim American teenager facing an arranged marriage that she doesn’t want: she’s fallen in love with someone else. But when her parents take her to visit Pakistan, she finds out that they want her to marry her arranged match…now!


  • The Jewish experience is just as a vast as any other religion and these books cover it really well
  • We had really interesting conversations with some Jewish friends about one particular title: LIKE NO OTHER: Devorah is a Hasidic good girl, never having challenged her upbringing. Until she meets Jaxon, a fun loving, completely non-Jewish boy. They get stuck in an elevator together during an emergency and suddenly start sneaking out to see one another. But how much are they willing to risk to be together? We’ll talk a little more about this in an upcoming slide.


  • We had a couple of different posts on different opinions on Mormonism. Sam Taylor wrote a post on Mormon representation, and she successfully booktalks all of the books shown here and a couple of more. Her post can be found on our hub!


  • Our friend librarian Maureen Eichner talks about the representation of Christian Orthodoxy in YA lit. This quote from her helps illustrate the importance of religious and spiritual representation in young adult lit.


  • We had an EXCELLENT post by scholar and former Printz committee member Robert Bittner about GLBTQ teens and religion. Teens aren’t just one thing at a time, and we need to remember to look for books that serve our GLBTQ teens that identify with a faith system.


  • You didn’t think the two of us weren’t going to talk about feminism, did you??
  • Post on Rae Carson’s books
  • Tessa Gratton’s post



  • Always err on the side of asking people of that faith! And if you don’t have a good answer, that’s ok! Talk to your teens about this. Ask them what they thought, if they were well-represented.


  • You have to take your own beliefs out of the equation. The two of us are both women that belong to one faith, but we serve patrons of all faiths. The entire community has to be represented, and our teens deserve to be exposed to faith and belief systems that aren’t otherwise familiar to them.


  • Here are some best practices



  1. […] Faith and Spirituality presentation by Ally Watkins and Karen Jensen – inclusive, own voices approach to ensuring faith is represented positively in your collection. […]

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