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Just As You Are: Church Kids and Purity Culture in Never Saw You Coming by Erin Hahn

This is really the dedication to a 2021 young adult book published by a big 5 publisher. It sets the tone for the whole book. IYKYK, as the kids say.

I was a church kid my entire childhood and well into adulthood, really.  I was such a church kid. And I wasn’t ready for Erin Hahn’s Never Saw You Coming when I was a teen, but I’m ready for it now, and it has knocked me for a loop. 

18 year old Meg Hennessy just found out that her life was built on lies: her dad is NOT her dad, and she has family she’s never met. So instead of taking her gap year at an all-female Christian dude ranch out West, she ends up traveling north to meet the family that she never knew existed. There she collides with Micah Allen, a former pastor’s kid. By former, I mean his dad’s in prison, and Micah’s been dealing with that fallout for years. His dad is coming up for probation and Micah is feeling the pressure from his family and some friends to forgive his dad for his crimes–and he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be ready for that.

This book has some really good family content. Not only with Micah and his dad, but also with his mom and stepdad and his siblings. Meg is forging new relationships with her new-found uncle and great-grandmother, but also tentatively restarting her relationship with the parents who raised her. I really liked all of it, and it’s done well, especially the tension between Micah and what he feels like he should be doing for the adults in his life.

Obviously, Meg and Micah fall in love. The romance is well-paced and fun, and it’s quite swoony. (Meg even gets an on-page orgasm, which in the context and environment of this book is revolutionary. Bravo, Erin Hahn.)

The romance is great, but the commentary is where this book shines. 

Meg and Micah have grown up in this evangelical environment and they’re both working out what their faith means to them in the context of their own brokenness. Meg’s parents have lied to her for her entire life, and her mom has also been pretty evangelically traditional about stuff like purity culture and modesty (hello, used-up-Oreo purity demonstration). Micah’s dad conned his church and used his power to do some pretty shady stuff to his congregation. They both have serious baggage. Micah doesn’t want to go anywhere near a church and Meg’s relationship with the church and her faith, something that has always given her strength and comfort, has become more confusing.

Over the course of the book, Meg begins to think more expansively, reflecting on how “sinners” aren’t allowed to volunteer or be front and center in church, especially if an incident has happened that calls their virtue into question and has been reported to the church. Even though churches say “come as you are” or “sinners welcome.” She’s never had reason to be aware of it because she’s always been a “good girl,” but now she’s aware of it and she’s conflicted. (Especially since she’s been kissing Micah and doesn’t know how to feel about it.) She is also starting to be more affirming of people in the LGBTQIA+ community, even though many of those evangelical spaces would have told her not to be: she worries that she’s upset queer friends and family by “spouting off untested rhetoric from Sunday School.”

And when her “purity” is (inevitably?) called into question in a humiliating fashion by a churchy busybody and an authority figure, she wilts, just like she has been trained to do by the church.

Poor Meg.

Honestly, a lot of us that grew up in those evangelical spaces have baggage whether or not our moms are legalistic liars or our dads are sleazy shitbags. Purity culture is saturated into those environments. You can’t avoid it. We were all told that our bodies were something to be feared (not the gifts that they are), and that our crushes were something to be guarded against (not something fun and flirty and possibly completely innocuous). Those of us unlucky enough to be girls in these spaces were told that it was our responsibility to keep the boys around us from sinning and that it was our bodies that were the problem. Meg is falling for Micah in the context of her upbringing, which brings hiccups. Especially hiccups about sex and dating.

You can read the book to see how everything plays out. But Hahn really gets it. She seems to know what it’s like to be a church girl and to be in that position and to see that “the only time churches are worried about modesty and purity is when it comes to their teenage girls” (whew, if that one didn’t knock me on my ass!).

Ok, so maybe this isn’t a book for every single teen. And I get that. The kids we serve are a diverse group, and there are going to be teens who look at a book about Christian evangelical church culture and just be baffled. But there are teens that this book is for, and it’s going to smack them between the eyes. It’s going to open up a whole new world for them.

I wasn’t ready for this book at age 18. I wasn’t ready for this book in my twenties, honestly. But now I’m your friendly neighborhood progressive Christian librarian, and I’m thankful for this book, and I’m going to give it to the teens who are ready for it.

More information about Never Saw You Coming.

Find Ally on twitter at @aswatki1.

Ally’s Favorite Graphic Novels of 2020

It’s no secret that 2020 has been…a lot. But also, a lot of beautiful comics and graphic novels have come out this year. Here’s a few of my favorites middle grade and YA graphic novels from 2020, in no particular order:

Go With the Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann

Go With the Flow is a great MG graphic novel about a group of friends fighting for menstrual equality at their school: why does the football team have more funding than female health?? I loved the palette on this one–the red accents are fun and the art is great!

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Lee Gulledge

I really liked the Dark Matter of Mona Starr, both for its art and celebration of creativity AND the very real way it portrays depression in a teenager. Our teens are dealing with mental health issues and we need to take that seriously. MAJOR bonus points for normalized on-page therapy sessions!!

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Almost American Girl tells the story of Robin Ha’s transition from a normal teenager in Seoul to an immigrant in Huntsville, Alabama. This graphic memoir is beautifully illustrated and also looks at how isolated and difficult it is for anyone to be dropped into a new country, a new language, a new school.

The Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse

The Witches of Brooklyn is the cutest thing I’ve read in quite some time. I LOVED main character Sophie, who is mourning the loss of her mom, and her home. But things start to get interesting when she finds out that magic runs in her family!! (I liked this one so much I gave it to my niece for Christmas!)

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley

Stepping Stones is Lucy Knisley’s first middle grade graphic novel. I’ve long been a fan of Knisley’s adult titles and her social media presence so I was excited to dig into this one. Jen is upset that she’s had to move away from the city and to a farm with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend. She’s even more upset when she finds out that she’ll be spending weekends with her new stepsisters. Can they become friends or are they all too different?

Twins by Varian Johnson, illustrated by Shannon Wright

Twins is maybe the perfect middle grade graphic novel. It has everything: sibling rivalry, new friendships, starting middle school. I absolutely loved this story of twins Maureen and Francine who find themselves running against each other for student council president. The art is wonderful, and I’m really hoping this one becomes a whole series about the twins!!

Displacement by Kiku Hughes

Displacement is a gorgeous graphic novel mix of family history and magic. Kiku, a teen living today, becomes displaced in time and finds herself living in a Japanese internment camp in the 40s. She witnesses the lives of the residents of the camp, seeing how their civil liberties were violated by the American government. This is a powerful treatise on intergenerational trauma and memory.

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

The Magic Fish is…kind of a masterpiece? The art is absolutely breathtaking. If you haven’t picked this one up, you’re in for a treat. Thirteen year old Tiến is trying to find the words to tell his Vietnamese parents that he’s gay…but he hasn’t managed it yet, in English or in Vietnamese. The story of Tiến’s life is interwoven with the fairytales that he reads with his mother. Have I mentioned the art? Because it’ll make your jaw drop. I hope we see more from this artist very soon!!

What were your favorite graphic novels of 2020?

2019 Collection Development Resources, a handy list of resources to help you buy new books in the new year

One of the reasons that I do this blog is that it allows me to create and curate a resource for myself. That’s right, I use this blog as a resource just as much as I hope others might. It works as sort of a journal, a manual if you will, to help me be better at my daytime job. Today I am curating a list of 2019 collection development resources because I want to have them all in one place for myself moving forward, but I’m happy to share them with you and I hope you’ll share your favorite resources with me.

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YA Lit

Rachel has put together an amazing resource for those who purchase YA lit which you can access here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Q6zleJBHg0EWLG22aC3awjJQk7SaS5qtDlaZEb02XgU/edit?usp=sharing. You can learn more about Rachel at Rec-It Rachel.

Bookbirds has a curated list of YA lit releases which you can find here: http://www.booksbirds.com/2018/02/your-guide-to-2019-ya-releases.html

Stacked books has a list of 2019 YA lit titles with teens of color on the cover. You can view that post here: http://stackedbooks.org/2018/07/2019-ya-books-with-teens-of-color-on-the-cover-so-far.html

Epic Reads has curated Harper’s 2019 YA lit cover reveals here: https://www.epicreads.com/blog/summer-2019-young-adult-book-covers/

You can view the Penguin 2019 YA lit book preview here: http://www.penguinteen.com/2019-penguin-teen-ya-book-preview/

Macmillan has a list of 2019 YA releases which you can view here: http://macmillanlibrary.com/2018/08/20/books-for-teens-2019-ooh-la-la/

Simon Teen has a look at their 2019 YA lit book covers here: https://rivetedlit.com/2018/06/04/your-first-look-at-all-the-covers-for-our-spring-2019-ya-books/

And Goodreads currently has a list of 665 books tagged as 2019 YA lit releases which you can view here: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/128821.YA_Novels_of_2019

MG Lit

The Goodreads middle grade list currently has 265 titles on it and you can view that list here: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/111975.Middle_Grade_Novels_of_2019

There are some MG novels listed on this 2018 and 2019 spreadsheet over at MG Book Village which you can find here: https://mgbookvillage.org/2018releasedates/

Goodreads also has a list of MG and YA lit titles that feature POC characters here: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/111986.2019_YA_MG_Books_With_POC_Leads

Goodreads has a list of MG and YA lit titles that feature GLBTQAI+ themes here: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/108612.2019_YA_Books_with_Possible_LGBT_Themes

I will be adding to this list as I find new resources and please feel free to add any links you are aware of in the comments. Happy book buying!