Divergent is a Christian Novel–The Good and the Bad in YA Fiction

I am a big believer in reading novels. I read to my children every night from the time they were 6 months old (they’d still stare at baby board books). We graduated to chapter books when they were 4. And they’ve always found great pleasure in reading novels, too.

But I’ve always been really careful with what I let them read. Let’s face it: most teen fiction, and a whole lot of children’s fiction, isn’t good.

Yet I don’t think we should write off secular fiction as a whole, because books have the ability to transport us to other worlds and to really affect our hearts in ways that other things can’t. Books have the power to really heal and teach and challenge. I think it’s because when we read we need to create the story ourselves–we’re active participants. Because we can’t “see” the action or the characters, we need to imagine it. Unlike a movie, a book becomes a part of who we are.

And so today I thought I’d tell you about the good news and the bad news when it comes to Young Adult Fiction.

Stuff I Love: Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant (Divergent is a Christian Novel!)

Divergent is a Christian Novel (in my opinion)Oh, my goodness, what amazing Christian books without being Christian. I was introduced to the Divergent trilogy  last summer, when only the first two were out. The author, Veronica Roth, apparently started them when she was only 19, and sold them in her early twenties. She is a Christian. The books are not–outwardly. But I have never read such a good Christian allegory as these books. I truly believe Divergent is a Christian novel. The central question she is asking in the series is this:

Is it possible for humans, on their own, to overcome original sin?

And the conclusion? Nope.

They’re full of action and suspense and an amazing plot. The writing isn’t the best; I don’t think there’s very many words over two syllables. But honestly, teenagers don’t care. And we heard about these books not from other Christians but from teens we knew who were reading them. Katie started reading, and then I read, and I was hooked.

The central theme is that society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Tris is born into Abnegation, but when kids reach 16, they are given a test which shows which trait they are best suited for. And then they get to choose: do you want to stay in your faction, or switch factions? And there’s no switching back. Once you switch, you leave your family behind.

But something happens to Tris. Unlike everybody else, she ranks for three virtues, not just one. She’s a Divergent. And because of that, she finds herself embroiled in a mystifying plot to try to deal with her and get rid of her. In the process, she ends up taking the whole system down. By the end of the second book, Insurgent, we find out how these factions started: humanity had tried to deal with original sin by “genetically” modifying out the bad. And it didn’t work.

Allegiant is the new and final book in the trilogy, and I haven’t finished it yet (though Katie did and she was really upset at the end!). I guess it’s a sad ending, but I think that’s okay, and likely in keeping with what Veronica Roth was trying to do (showing that there is no redemption this side of heaven). As far as I know she hasn’t publicly talked about the theological implications of her story; she’s hoping people pick up on it and that it makes people talk about it. But I think reading these books with your teens, or talking about them with kids who aren’t Christian, is an awesome conversation starter. I’m excited to finish Allegiant!

Often Christians think we can only read Christian fiction, but there’s great stuff out there in the secular world, too. You just need to be super picky. And even though these are marketed as “young adult” books, as an adult-adult, I can tell you I loved them.

Divergent is coming out as a movie soon and we’ll definitely be seeing it. Here’s the trailer:

I’m glad people are making intelligent books and intelligent movies that make you think about deeper issues. You can read the book and watch the movie and see only the action; but if you look at what’s really underneath the plot, there’s a lot of good theology there. It’s a great allegory, and I hope people think hard about it.

What I Hate: Fan Fiction

Every parent needs to be wary of “Fan Fic” as it’s called. Basically, fans of best-selling books, like Twilight, write their own books featuring the main character or side characters. They tend to sell well because fans of the books want more. Unfortunately, these books are often high sexually explicit or overly graphic.

50 Shades of Grey, after all, started out as Fan Fiction from Twilight.

Here’s the problem: Let’s say your children like a series that is relatively harmless. they go on all the fan pages for the book series. They follow it on Facebook. And then they see links to extra stories. They download them (lots of them are free, after all, because these new authors are trying to develop a following on the back of something that has already sold). But these books that they’ve downloaded aren’t nearly as innocent as the books they’ve read. (For the record, I never thought Twilight was that innocent, but it’s much less harmful than most of its Fan Fiction!).

The moral of the story: Really watch what your kids access on the internet. Even when it’s not out-and-out porn it can still be really damaging. Most of us adults have never even heard the term “Fan Fic”, but believe me–if you have teens, chances are they know what it is. So we need to keep vigilant and talk to our kids about what they’re reading, and how they’re accessing it.
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Christian YA Special Deal

My friend Rajdeep Paulus has written a moving book about abuse, friendship, and the power of connection. I reviewed it here, but she’s hosting a great giveaway right now where you can win a bunch of prizes! She writes:

Talia and Lagan, the main characters in Swimming Through Clouds, met in the fall of their senior year in high school. To celebrate their unforgettably sticky, Post-it love story, I’m declaring fall as the best time to fall in love. :) And no better way to celebrate than with a MEGA-Giveaway with lots of Fun Fall Prizes including a $50 Amazon Gift Card!

Fifteen Winners will win over $150 worth in prizes. You could be one of them! So whatcha waitin’ for? The Swimming Through Clouds family invites you to jump into our pile of prizes and find plenty of ways to rack up your chances to be a winner. See you in November when the Lucky 15 will be announced! Happy Swimming, all!

What books do you love for teens? Let me know in the comments!


Comments

  1. I’m going to hold back from saying all that I could…since this is write when I’m not writing about Christian sex in marriage. I write fiction.

    Many friends have presupposed that I write Christian fiction, but I explain that no, I am a Christian writer of fiction, but not a Christian fiction writer. My worldview can’t help but intrude on my stories’ themes and plots and characters because my faith is integral to who I am. I’m thrilled that we have Christian fiction, but I think it’s also important to have many Christians writing mainstream fiction so we can plant seeds of these principles outside of the church. You’re right in saying that there are some blatantly immoral teen novels, and I don’t want to cede the world of young adult fiction to those who preach a harmful message.

    I have not read Divergent, but I will put it on my list! Immediately. Thanks, Sheila.
    J (Hot, Holy & Humorous) recently posted…How Much Should You Learn about Sex before the Wedding Night?My Profile

  2. Two other moms of teens and I had an email discussion about ya fiction just last week. Sending them the link to this post. Thanks!

  3. I haven’t read a lot of YA (I tend to read classics, Christian fiction and middle grade fiction – I think that is the right term!), but I love The Hunger Games series! A friend is going to lend me Divergent and its sequels and now I am even more excited to read them than I already was!
    Katherine Crombie recently posted…I’ll Lend You A ChildMy Profile

  4. My middle son (my book worm) and I loved this series. We’d read the Hunger Games trilogy and shortly after I discovered this series. Both series have sparked some interesting conversations in our house. I even ended up reading them aloud to the boys (11 & 13) as our bedtime read aloud. Yes, my husband and still read out loud to the boys. He works 7 out of every 14 days so he reads one hood and I read a different one. Currently, I’m reading the Infinity Ring series to the boys and DH is reading Fire World.

  5. While my teens and myself have really enjoyed the Divergent trilogy and will be seeing the movie, I only feel that it is fair to warn potential new readers of the book that there is a fair amount of intimacy that is described in such a way as to really bring up feelings of arousal. It is also implied in the last book that Tris and Four do have sex and they are in their mid-teens and not married. While not explicitly written, it does have some fairly detailed terminology that could easily lead to arousal and even fantasy for readers, especially young readers. I was kind of suprised, actually! Again, we do really enjoy the books, but I do think Christian parents should know that stuff is in there.

    • Shyla, thanks for letting me know! I didn’t know that about Allegiant; Haven’t finished the book yet. I don’t remember anything too graphic in the first two, but thanks for the warning!

      • I agree. I haven’t quite finished Allegiant, but I’ve found the same things. At the point where I am, they haven’t had sex, but there are definitely very intimate moments that could be too much for teens. She also touches on homosexuality. Hoping that doesn’t make another appearance before the end of the book, but it could. That part is one that younger teens could easily read & not pick up on, but it’s still there. LOVE the books & love the Christian undertones, but I wish some of that had been left out so there would be no hesitancy in parents letting kids read them.

        • I find this true of John Green’s books too. They are deep and excellently told stories. Fast-paced and memorable characters. But at some point, the teens jump into bed or go to far and not that that doesn’t happen in the real world. but if fiction has a chance to introduce love and romance and the wonder of falling in love to teen readers, why not let them savor the authenticity of feelings and attraction without pushing them to always act on those feelings. I want my girls to discover what it means and feels like to fall in love. But, even more than that, I want them to learn that love, at the end of the day, is action. Not a feeling. And you might not always have a say in who you fall in love with, but you daily choose who you will love. And that daily choice is hard work. -raj
          Rajdeep Paulus recently posted…It’s Rather Simple Really: A Nomi Network PostMy Profile

    • I have a 12 year old who is a strong reader and very interested in this series. I blocked out passages in divergent I did not want her to read, but she wants to go on to the second book and I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. DO you know of any websites that indicated pages where passages may be inapropriate, so that I can cover them up in the book if I let her read it? thanks. Please email me! kristy at kristyglass dot come

  6. Melanie E. says:

    I loved the first two and am eagerly waiting to get hold of this last one. Can’t wait for the movie, too!

  7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is the best YA novel I have ever read. It’s a deeply moving World War II story. It will definitely provoke conversations surrounding the concentration camps, but it is a beautiful book.

  8. It is always good to get suggestions for reading. My 15-year-old daughter likes to read teen drama, and believe me, she does not need it. Thanks!

  9. When I go to my 10 yr old daughter’s soccer games I chat with another young lady whose sister is playing. She never watches so we always end up talking. She is a reader just like myself and she was so excited about Divergent. She got me hooked just by her description and reaction and I don’t think this young lady is a christian. So this book is on my list of books to read. We even looked up the meaning of the word Divergent together and started brainstorming about the genesis of the plot!
    nylse recently posted…Notes From My Daughter – A Testimony on HumilityMy Profile

  10. Putting this set on my to-read list right now!

  11. I really like the Maze Runner series…its not a Christian book, or by a Christian author, but I appreciate the fact that there is no sexual innuendo in this dystopian story (although that isn’t the only thing we should be avoiding in YA fiction) Anyone else read it? Any thoughts?

    • Putting it on my list. Thanks for another title! :) -raj

      And another great YA book out there is Glass Girl by Laura Anderson Kurk. It’s about a school shooting. The writing is nearly poetic and the characters unforgettable!
      Rajdeep Paulus recently posted…It’s Rather Simple Really: A Nomi Network PostMy Profile

    • I have read Maze Runner and had an exciting story, great suspense! My only hesitancy is the “made up” curse words that start to wear on you just like cussing would do in a novel.

    • I love the Maze Runner series! The author is Mormon (LDS), and yes, Mormons are Christian!

    • Read them. They were ok. I didn’t like them that much.
      The main character is a bit of an idiot. It felt like there was some places where there were weird disconnects.
      Events didn’t quite follow each other logically. It was also a bit needlessly violent.
      And I hate zombies.

      Overall not bad, but I wouldn’t go out and buy it. I only read it ’cause my sister bought them for a class she was taking. I’m not sure I’d recommend it and I will not be watching the movie.
      The series would be ideal source material for an anime though. If they give it to funimation to make an anime I would watch that.

  12. There were a lot of bad influences in media when I was a kid, too. Unfortunately my folks weren’t close enough to me to have much credibility in saying “no” to this or that, and I defied their counsel.

    In case you had that experience and now have little ones of your own, let me offer a step in introducing them to the world on the other side of the monitor.

    My 11-year-old is just learning to use the Web (under supervision, of course). It just happened that I got a 419 e-mail as we were sitting down together. I read the text aloud to her, all about this prince from some foreign nation who wanted to share his smuggled fortune with me, then we discussed what it really meant.

    I asked, “Is he lying about all this?” She knew. “So there are people online who will try to deceive you from the get-go, in order to take something from you?” Yep.

    So, the seed is planted. She knows there are criminals just a click away — unlike in the relatively safe neighborhood we inhabit. Soon, when we talk about all the other awful things that can happen over the Internet, she’ll begin with that understanding.

  13. Sheila, others have mentioned how the 3rd book has more mature themes, such as premarital sex, a gay couple, and curse words. I loved the first two but felt in the third the author tried too much to be like all the other YA books that are popular on the market by adding elements not in the first two. I’d be interested in your opinion after you finish the entire book!
    Sandra recently posted…Adoption Update & Prayer RequestsMy Profile

  14. I have read the Divergent trilogy and liked the first two much better than the third. It seemed rushed and as others have stated, there is a hint of a sex scene and a homosexual couple.

    Based on your recommendation, I just read Swimming Through Clouds and loved it! Is there a sequel planned? It seems like so many things were hinted at, but never fully answered.

    Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver is a YA novel that I really liked. It does have some talk of sex, drinking and other questionable teenage activities.

    • Oh, I am so DEPRESSED about the third one now! I just loved the first two, and now I’m scared to finish. Darn. I still think the concept was really good, though, and I got into some great conversations about the first two with other people. Thanks for the recommendation, too!

    • Delirium & Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver were fantastic. Similar dystopian fiction, and I found possibly more spiritual links in these books. “What if love was a disease?” So cool. :)

  15. Try the Michael Vey series. It’s about a boy with tourette syndrome and has electrical powers.

  16. My family really enjoyed the Rangers Apprentice series by John Flanagan. Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan. I try to pick up my children’s books and randomly flip through them reading them here and there. Then if I find subject I find inappropriate we talk. There have been times I have asked one of my kids to let me resd the whole book before they finish it. And also times after talking we have stopped what we were doing and go RIGHT THEN to the library to return the book.

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