Let’s start the year off with a terrifying bang, shall we?
After all, being a blogger is scary. And the more I write, the more I start to realize this. If only that made me any braver. But there are some things worth talking about, even if all you want to do is hide a hole with all your fluffy friends.
There are a lot of sensitive discussions out there in terms of fiction and the books we obsessive over, but I never thought I’d really have too much trouble with them. After all, I’m a bit of a goody-two-shoes and don’t really like getting into debates. Plus, I have my motto:
“Be respectful. Encourage kindness. Pet bunnies.”
I mean, what’s so controversial about that? I keep my head down and try not to make waves.
But there’s another part of myself that I’m realizing is controversial to some people. That is, that I’m religious and I wish there was more religious representation in YA/NA fiction. I’ve yet to see this sentiment expressed among bloggers, except for the strictly Christian who don’t believe swearing, drugs or sex belongs in YA fiction. Personally, I don’t believe religious = wholesome. I also don’t believe religious = close-minded. When I say I want religion, I mean in the real sense, in the way real people actually practice and view their faith. Making mistakes. Different interpretations. Religious people, like all groups, are not a monolith, and it’s time we stopped treating them like one.
Here’s the thing, religion is a tricky subject. A lot of people have completely valid reasons for disliking it, and too many people in the world today warp it for their own personal gains. Not to mention not every book is suitable for a religious slant. Again, there’s plenty of valid reasons why many novels should not, and don’t, include any religious overtones.
However, Christianity alone has approximately 2.2 billion followers. That’s over 30% of the world’s population. Now think about all of the other religions out there. Altogether, 84% of the world’s population practices some type of faith. And with these sheer numbers, finding any sort of religious characters in YA/NA fiction is near impossible unless you’re looking specifically under “Religious Fiction”.
So why are we still ignoring religions, of any sort, when it comes to books? I think of it like this, not too long ago the only way to find LGBT books was to seek out a specific niche. There were no fantasy or sci-fi books with protagonists who just happened to be LGBT. If you wanted to read a story about that type of hero, that’s what the entire books premise HAD to be about (usually rife with awful stereotypes and unhappy endings too). But with the rise of #OwnVoices, things are slowly (omg sooooo slowly!) starting to get better. It’s still not perfect, but people are sick of seeing these types of characters constantly at the bottom of the bin.
That’s where I feel books featuring religious characters still are. You want a Jewish/Christian/Muslim character? That books better be ABOUT that character’s faith. No dragons and swords. No ghosts or shooting up zombies. Contemporary with clean language only.
Why? Why are people still so afraid of reading about religion?
Oh wait, I remember.
“Because it’s too preachy!”
Is it? I don’t know, some novels may come off as preachy, but are they really all? Maybe it’s an unpopular opinion, but it sometimes feels readers think ALL mention of religion is preachy simply based on the fact that they don’t like it. It’s sort of like when a novel features a gay person as a supporting side character and suddenly people are clutching their pearls and crying out ‘They’re shoving their sexuality down our throats! Think of the CHILDREN!!!!!’
Look, I’m not trying to rustle any feathers, and I’m not claiming that every book ever needs to have some type of religious aspect. But it’s definitely one of those things that starts to stick out after awhile because I do believe that constantly NOT including religion is still taking a stance on the subject.
I admit, this may be due to my own limited reading experience. I don’t read as quickly as other people, so I’m not able to get through as many books to see if perhaps there is religious representation out there I’m just not seeing. But, I do read a ton of book reviews, and in the last few months I think I can think of 2 novels (Autoboyography and Love, Hate & Other Filters), where religion actually plays a role in the protagonists’ life.
Now, more than ever, the book world is making strides in diversifying the literature available to us. Protagonists are allowed to be non-white and LGBT+ (although not always, I’m not going to pretend that battle is won as we still have a long way to go), but we’ve seemed to reach a cultural norm where Christianity is seen as SO “normal” it’s acceptable to mock, degrade and stereotype. Why is this okay? Why is putting down anyone okay?
I realize that in certain novels such as fantasy it might not make sense to reference real-world religions (and as I stated before, I’m not claiming every novel in existence requires some type of religious aspect). But on the flip-side, doesn’t including belief/faith/religion of some sort make that fictional society or world that much more authentic? Isn’t the aim of a purely fantasy world to make it feel as real as possible? Like someplace you can actually step inside and see and touch?
Building a setting completely from scratch allows authors to take things like faith and spiritualism in their own hands. If the practices of real-world religions make authors uncomfortable, this is the perfect opportunity to
Not only that, it only serves to make that fantasy world that much more realistic and well-rounded. Remember, 84%? It doesn’t mean every character has to practice their faith. It doesn’t even mean any of them have to at all. But to pretend it doesn’t have a hand in how their civilization is formed is naive. Like it or not, society is shaped by all religions, and it doesn’t matter whether we, as individuals, believe in it or not. Laws are formed around it. Cultural norms are rooted in it. A character can follow along or break against these traditions and beliefs, but the point is that they are still there.
Maybe I’m really feeling this right now since I’m still up to my eyeballs working on Crucible, (Remember that? Do you?) which I not only created a fictional religion for, but it plays a pretty big role in my characters’ lives. Still, despite its title (ugh, should I change it? I love it but I think it’s giving everyone the wrong idea), the book is not a religious one. Not really, anyway. While the main character is constantly questioning his faith, it’s not the central focus of the plot, and the ending is not resolved with neat and tidy answers.
Anyway, I’ve gone back and forth a lot about whether or not I should post this, but ultimately I think it’s something worth talking about. I’ve found that even folks who aren’t religious in any sense, still find the concept of religion interesting because of what a huge impact it has had on societies and history. So why are YA/NA novels still ignoring it? Are we just not there yet? Or is it just too prickly of a topic to deal with?
Do you think religion has a place in YA/NA fiction? Do you think it’s something that can be integrated casually?