Why is Christian YA Important?
Some of the answers to this question seem obvious. Evangelism (introducing Christian beliefs to those unfamiliar or searching.) Reinforced values. “Safe” stories without graphic sex, profanity or violence. Those are all important reasons.
I spent a considerable portion of my early teen years figuring out what I believed, why I believed it and what I wanted to do about it. I think this is the case for a lot of people. As a public school kid, I wasn’t surrounded by Christian faculty and curriculum. (For me, I think this was ultimately a good thing, though that’s another story.) I found friends who shared the same moral ideas that I did, though not always the same faith base. (I think this was also ultimately good, but also another story.)
When I read Christian YA featuring characters facing that struggle – the wrestling with faith to craft our own beliefs, or perhaps more accurately, make our beliefs our own – it reminds me of my own battles. Reminds me that I’m not the only person to ask those questions.
Because I’m involved (or at least a fly on the wall near) some pretty mainstream YA discussions, I hear a lot about how teens need freedom to experiment, need access to stories in which characters have the same kinds of experiences that their readers have. Sometimes this is an argument in favor of including explicit language or sex. I have lots of thoughts about why I think this very often is a flawed argument, but one of the bloggers I love says it really well on her blog Reading Teen.
Perhaps ironically, I think that same argument can be made about more books including authentic spiritual experiences in faith shared by readers. For me, those are experiences in Christian faith. We need those stories. We all need to be reminded that life throws us curve balls we didn’t expect, and sometimes it’s easy to fall back on faith, but sometimes it’s hard. Stories that explore those trials can be very validating.
Why Aren’t There More Christian YA Novels On Bookstore Shelves?
The single reason I hear most is that it’s difficult to get Christian YA books actually onto those shelves. Think about your local bookstore. Is there a section for Christian YA? (At my local Barnes & Noble, there’s possibly one half of a shelf, I mean maybe 6 books or so last I looked.) If there is a section, is it with the other YA books? (Not at my B&N.) Is it easily accessible? (Or is it buried back near bathrooms or kids’ Bibles or something like that?)
If you have a great Christian YA section in your bookstore, that’s super awesome, and I might move to your town. For most people, I’m betting that’s simply not the case.
I find it fascinating that we segregate books and separate out the Christian fiction. Wouldn’t it be easier to shelve them all together? If you want to buy Christian fiction, learn the publishers or authors you love and shop by them. (Isn’t that pretty much how everyone else buys books?)
Some Christian publishers have seemed to give up on YA altogether. Others seem to have focused on stories with milder Christian content. Sometimes there’s talk about God but maybe not Jesus. Maybe prayer, but not really any specifics. In some stories, that’s really where the protagonist’s journey takes him. I’m glad to read those stories, but it’s also important to hear the bold ones, ones in which characters share deeper parts of a Christian life.
The Good News: There Are Some GREAT Authors Out There
Through my own journey as a writer and blogger, I’ve had the privilege of working with some incredible Christian authors. I’m humbled by their excellent stories and challenged by the messages within them. If you’ve been a long-time follower at The Story Sanctuary, you’ve heard their names.
Here are some of the great books by Christian authors that I’ve reviewed: