Reality and diversity.
Those are two words I see emphasized over and over in YA literature. Be real. Be diverse.
The problem with this admonition is that we tend to get stuck in a rut as to what “real” and “diverse” actually mean. Writing realism means writing about sex and drugs and depression and divorce and fear and loneliness and relationships. Diversity means incorporating African American characters and bisexual characters and Hispanic characters and Jewish characters. And all of this is really, really wonderful. Not only do these elements make for diverse fiction and realistic fiction – it makes for INTERESTING fiction.
But there is one form realism and diversity which I haven’t seen much in YA. Where are the religious characters?
I’m not talking about the ones who mention their parents’ church in passing. I’m talking about those kids who wonders about the existence of God; the Muslim girls who are torn between the traditions of their parents and their friends; the boy who visits his priest with his questions about life and faith and girls.
I want to read books in which the characters’ faiths are incorporated as seamlessly as David Levithan incorporates homosexuality. I want to see novels where characters just happen to be Hindu or Jewish just as they just happen to be dark-skinned coffee lovers.
Religion is diversity too. But more than that, it’s part of being a young adult. The act of growing up raises questions about God, the meaning of life, tradition, faith, sin. If we ignore the aspect of faith (or lack of it) in our characters’ lives, we ignore what it means to be young. And we ignore what it means to be human.
Readers: can you name any YA books (besides Christian fiction) that have elements of spirituality/religion? Personally, Madeleine L’Engle came to my mind. I love how A Ring of Endless Light so unflinchingly questions the nature of good and evil and death and ethics. I’m also excited to read Melissa Walker’s Small Town Sinners and Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger. Any other recommendations?
Edit: Kate just sent me to this wonderful list of contemporary YA that deals with faith, sexuality and life after high school. Can't wait to check these out!