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2015 Abstracts

Religion in Young Adult Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Natasha Mickelson, Brigham Young University


Young adult contemporary realistic fiction is a genre which attempts to portray real life. Young adult readers of these novels should be able to find themselves in the characters and relate to their backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives on life. While many young adult novels deal with controversial topics such as sexuality, drug use, physical abuse, suicide, and other difficult subjects in an attempt to be realistic, one aspect of life still largely considered a literary “taboo” is religion.Through examining studies done and looking at a sample of novels in the young adult contemporary realistic fiction genre I found that most of these books mention nothing about the religious beliefs or backgrounds of their characters. In the few novels which do bring up religion, Christian beliefs and characters are more common than minority religions. However, those novels depicting Christian characters are more likely to show them in a negative light. These novels frequently portray religious characters (especially leaders) as bigoted, fanatical, or gullible. Often the main adolescent character is trying to break free from cultish groups, and their eventual loss of faith is celebrated. Since contemporary realistic fiction attempts to portray the real world and real teenagers, I researched recent studies surveying American teenagers’ views on and involvement with religion. The results of these studies show that most teenagers identify with and willingly participate in religious groups and practices. In my research I found that this disparity between real life and realistic YA fiction exists due to the aversion of writers and publishers to possible censorship issues and alienating potential readership. However, scholars agree that both the lack of religion and the negative religious stereotypes in these novels can leave teenage readers incorrectly feeling as though their beliefs in or questions about God and religion are uncommon or wrong.