Monday, November 12, 2012

Religion and YA Fiction: Does it matter?

Like many writers, I've developed a small circle of trusted readers that I allow to read my work before I even consider submitting or publishing it. Notice I said readers. Not writers. I'm actually leery sometimes of letting fellow writers do a critique because they often can't turn off their writer hats. Letting someone who just reads and doesn't write, is a good way for me to get a sense of how the whole "picture" is looking. After that, then I let the writer friends hack away at all the technical stuff!

One of my readers asked me a question that prompted today's blog topic: Does religion matter to young adults? Does it matter how you portray it in young adult fiction?

I think it does matter, and I think you have to approach it with an open mind. The reason why the reader asked is because my YA novel, Bayou Myths, is about the religion of voodoo. There are lots of misconceptions on the subject, (thank you, Hollywood) but it is a religion based on Haitian and Catholic beliefs. It probably isn't something that most teens and young adults have a lot of real world contact with which is why I tried to approach it with respect. No sense in furthering the misconceptions!

Religion is an interesting aspect of YA fiction because a character's beliefs can tell a great deal about their upbringing, their family, and their views of the world. It's an intriguing aspect of character building that lots of authors forget to include because it may not seem relevant. Don't dismiss it too quickly, though. Young adults are often battling with the "Who am I?" and "Does God exist?" questions. It's part of growing up, and their search for answers can lead in many directions which influence who they become as adults. When they read about characters going through similar worries or concerns, they identify and want to know more.

I think that we have seen such a huge trend in the vampire/zombie/ghosts genre because YA readers love that stuff and for them, it never gets old. Vampires, immortals, creatures that can't die by conventional means--that's the sort of thing that taps into the YA unconscious mind. What happens when we die? Where do we go? You can almost hearing them pondering those thoughts as the pick up the book from the shelf!  And since there is always another set of YA audiences being born every minute, vampires, zombies, and ghosts will never fall out of fashion.

As a YA writer, this may mean putting aside your own religious beliefs or views in order to be open to your character's development. If a religion plays an important role in your novel as it does in mine, research it--especially if isn't a religion you practice. I would never write a scene about Catholicism without knowing the background. Nor would I try to create a Muslim character without knowing more about their traditions.

So what are your thoughts on religion in YA? Share with the class, please!

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