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!)

q? encoding=UTF8&ASIN=0062024035&Format= SL160 &ID=AsinImage&MarketPlace=US&ServiceVersion=20070822&WS=1&tag=sheilawrayg00 20 - Divergent is a Christian Novel--The Good and the Bad in YA Fictionir?t=sheilawrayg00 20&l=as2&o=1&a=0062024035 - Divergent is a Christian Novel--The Good and the Bad in YA FictionOh, 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

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