Are You There, God? It’s Me, a Secularist, Humanist, Areligious, Questioning, Gay Committed Christian, Atheist: Adolescence and Religion in YAL
Volume 48: Issue 1 (Fall 2020)
Submissions due: March 1st, 2020
Former TAR editors Wendy Glenn, Ricki Ginsberg, and Danielle King asked teachers, researchers, and other YA advocates to consider the questions, “What’s Now? What’s New? What’s Next?” in their final issue, published in 2019. TAR readers responded, writing predominantly about religion and areligion (not influenced by or practicing religion) in YAL. A year later, we wonder: how are diverse adolescents and their a/religious or atheist affiliations, beliefs, and practices represented in the YA genre? How are a/religious and atheist teen characters portrayed? What religious affiliations get dominant positive representation in YAL? Who gets to be a/religious or atheist in YAL? Do adolescent agnostics, humanists, non-believers, questioners, and skeptics get any attention in the genre? Why does religion (especially areligion and atheism) in YAL still seem like a taboo topic?
We invite correspondence about ideas for articles, and submission of completed manuscripts. We would especially love to hear from teens about how they feel about the portrayal of a/religion or atheism in YAL, if they find a/religion or atheism to be of a central importance in YAL, and why. Here’s a partial list of topics, meant only to suggest the range of our interests for this issue:
- Is religion still a taboo topic in YAL? If so, why? Longtime YA scholar and advocate Patty Campbell has claimed the greatest of all taboos in YAL is religion. In a recent (2018) New York Times article, YA author Donna Freitas shared: “This feeling of mine — that a YA writer had best stay away from the topic of faith — is elusive, a kind of vapor that began swirling around me a decade ago when I wrote my first YA novel, ‘The Possibilities of Sainthood,’ about a Catholic girl who longs to become the first living saint… Being too overt about religion in a YA novel seemed a mistake, maybe even an act of self-sabotage — unless one is writing about cults or lampooning religion.” Why does writing about a/religion in YAL seem off-limits?
- In Patrick Ness’s Release, Adam Thorn grapples with love and heartbreak while living under strict rules in an Evangelical household where he hears “I love you, but…” from his family who have always struggled to believe Adam “might be a bit gay.” The religious teachings of his father and the lack of general acceptance from his family force Adam to question if the love he felt for his ex, Enzo, was real love: “Because what if they were right? What if there was something wrong with him? What if, on some level, way deep inside, right down to the very simplest, purified form of what he was, what if he was corrupted?” Manuel, an openly gay teen and committed Christian also has some thoughts on love in Alex Sanchez’s God Box. Manuel tells his closeted lover, Paul: “Pablito, the Bible was meant to be a bridge, not a wedge. It’s the greatest love story ever told, about God’s enduring and unconditional love for his creation–love beyond all reason. To understand it, you have to read it with love as the standard. Love God. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. Always remember that.” Finally, Julia Watts’ YA novel Quiver, presents Libby, an evangelical Christian and Zo, her feminist, gender fluid neighbor who must both navigate their families’ cultural differences to fight for their friendship. What can readers learn from YAL about how to navigate romance, friendship, family values and beliefs, AND multiple intersectional adolescent identities that include gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, and fundamentalist religious affiliations?
- Why is religion so divisive? Religion can be used as a weapon or to exploit and oppress. How can we use YAL to talk about what religion is and isn’t? How can YAL show us how to bridge differences and create unity rather than disunity? A claim of the field of young adult literature is its power to be a window or sliding glass door (Bishop, 1990) into unfamiliar cultures. Can YAL encourage its readers to be more empathetic towards individuals from different religious backgrounds and to be more understanding of other religious perspectives? What would this look like in scholarship, pedagogy, or in a YAL novel?
- Atheism is featured in several YA novels, including Darius the Great is Not Okay, by Adib Khorram; Heretics Anonymous, by Katie Henry; Blind Faith, by Ellen Wittlinger; A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life, by Dana Reinhardt; Godless, by Pete Hautman; and Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap. How can these YA novels be used to better understand atheist affiliations and beliefs? Why do teens choose to be atheist or areligious? What can we learn from these teens about the limits of religion? Where do these teens find community and connectedness?
- Volume 46, Issue 3 of TAR focused on the representations of Christianity in YAL and we wonder, how does the field of YAL take up non-Christian or non-dominant religious affiliations? What would it look like to have an American Muslim protagonist whose religious beliefs are not defined as threats of terrorism? Do texts like this exist? In The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, parishioners of the protagonist, Dill’s, Pentecostal church handle serpents, drink poison as a sign of faith, and are thusly positioned as stereotypical, ignorant, small-town Southerners. How can YAL be used to “talk back to” too simplistic, limiting, problematic portrayals of religion in the genre?
All submissions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please see the ALAN website (http://www.alan-ya.org/page/alan-review-author-guidelines) for submission guidelines.