It's as if most YA novels are permanently stuck in "Happy Holidays" mode. Some generic belief in God has an implied existence in every character's life, but not a whisper concretely exists.
Obvious Exceptions Off the Top of My Head:
(Meaning these Exceptions came from 5'4" above the ground.
Not the tallest Exceptions, but you forgive me, right?)
Novels about the daughter/son of a preacher/minister:
Novels centering on / mourning a death:
Novels about religious confusion:
(This was the cover when I read it!)
Last time I checked (about 10 seconds ago), 95% of Americans believe in some sort of deity or higher power. 83% believe specifically in God.
[I actually looked that one up! (And not on Wikipedia.) Go me!]
Are there novels that mention a character's religious affiliation? Sure.
But here's what I don't see -- characters going to a church / synagogue / mosque / temple. Or even mentioning that they're going. Or praying, like, at night. Or before meals. (Oh wait, they don't eat.)
Did I miss the memo? Is religion one of those things that's supposed to be assumed? Like how characters poop? (Not that we need to see those scenes, but honestly, if they didn't, many more novels would be set in a doctor's office with intestinal-centric plots.)
This is what concerns me though -- belief or non-belief in a higher power is intrinsic to who your character is. How they operate in the world. In fantasy, especially, religion is a key part of world-building.
I'm not saying that a character should go to church in every single novel. Or throw in a well-placed "Funny you should say that. I was reading the Bible last night..." But there's no way that NO ONE goes to church. Even if it's only because their parents force them. There must be some characters for whom religion is a tiny bit active in their lives. And high school is all about questioning and testing the BIG THINGS in life -- authority, sexuality, and
What got me on this topic?
1) I spent 12 years in Catholic school, so religion was a big part of every (week)day in my teen years. (God and I had a very straightforward relationship, but Catholicism and I? Ohhhh it was complicated.)
2) I recently realized that I'd one of my characters, June, was pretty dedicated to Judaism, but in nearly 100,000 words, I never once hinted to her attending synagogue.
Books that don't fit into my Exceptions categories but do, in fact, incorporate religion/beliefs naturally in the plot:
Nya believes in the Saints, but she definitely questions them.
Edward doesn't want to turn Bella because he believes that vampirism damns your soul to hell. Bella soooo does not care.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Mary has grown up with the Sisterhood ruling everything, but when her mother becomes Unconsecrated, she questions her faith in God and everything she's ever known.
Here's one thing I'm afraid of --- everyone's so concerned about being politically correct and appealing to a wide audience that they just leave religion untouched. Notice that all my examples were fantasy -- where's religion in the real world?
Hey, one example!
How to Be Bad
Jesse is a devout Christian, which causes tension in her relationship with her best friend.
Or is religion just a nonissue for most teens?
Or am I overthinking this?
For me, the jury's still out on the topic. The one thing I'm sure of -- even if religion NEVER appears on the page, every author needs to know what his/her characters believe. Religion appears a couple times in my novel -- mostly for June, because it's a source of tension in her family. Maddy, on the other hand, doesn't have religion as an active part of her life at all. Nina's somewhere in the middle.
I'd love some opinions! Would you object to more religion in YA novels, if it were included in an organic way? Are you including religion in your novel? What are some other examples of religion in YA, especially in realistic fiction?