I adore Catholic YA novels, in fact, I’m a writer of Catholic teen fiction. However, I have to admit that I’ve been guilty of believing some of these myths myself. The fact is, I never planned to be a Catholic writer for teens. My surprising journey began when my own kids were searching for YA novels and I was shocked and dismayed at the choices that were prevalent in mainstream literature. Most of the popular books didn’t reflect the values I was trying to instill in my children. My kids were still pretty young and I didn’t want to expose them to the filth that permeated many books. I searched and searched and wondered why no one was writing fun, interesting stories that had positive messages. Then one day the idea for my first novel popped into my head – a call from God to embark on a new journey.
Even then, I didn’t plan on writing in the Christian or Catholic genre – I just wanted to write a clean, fun adventure, but the mainstream publishers were not interested. I was basically told that my story was not raunchy enough for YA. Around this time, I came across a novel that had all the elements that I love in a book – humor, adventure, romance, mystery and, unbeknownst to me, when I picked up the book – it had a Christian theme. It was subtle – just part of the main character's growth and I realized that was the kind of story I wanted to write, to encourage kids in their faith by seeing characters like themselves.
My first novel, The Perfect Blindside, was published in 2015. Since then, I have written more books, read many Catholic teen novels, and had the pleasure of getting to know some amazing authors of Catholic teen fiction. When I first began this journey, I didn’t know much about this specific niche of the writing world. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot – some positive and some frustrating. Today, I’d like to share some of the misconceptions that I’ve discovered and hopefully dispel them as well.
1 - Catholic Teen Fiction is Boring.
I’ve heard this stereotype often and confess that I myself thought this before I became exposed to the amazing variety of books that exist. The wide array of genres I’ve experienced in Catholic literature are far from boring. Since I began writing Catholic YA fiction, I have begun reading a lot of it and writing reviews for my website. I’ve got to say, the books I’ve discovered have been incredible. They’ve been: laugh out loud funny – a.k.a Genius by Marilee Hays, on the edge of my seat suspense – I Am Margaret by Corinna Tuner, full of heart-pounding action – St. Magnus – The Last Viking by Susan Peek, and have contained characters that I can’t stop thinking about – Standing Strong by Theresa Linden.
2 - Catholic Teen Fiction is Preachy.
I don’t know about you, but I do remember reading some Christian books as a kid that had holier-than-thou ideals and goody-two-shoe characters. The memory of these books was the reason I didn’t immediately think to make my books Christian based. However, just like the book that inspired me to join this exciting area of fiction, the books I’ve discovered over the last two years are not preachy but show that faith can be incorporated in our daily lives and relied on when troubles arise. These characters are like us – people whose faith is part of their lives, and their strengthened beliefs are a natural part of the character growth. Most kids I know, go to mass with their families and faith is part of who they are, but for some reason, these attributes are not reflected in out literature. Why not expose our children to characters like them that can also be positive role models?
3 - My kids need some exposure to other things besides “church” books.
I’ve heard this argument and I understand that we don’t want to keep our kids in a bubble, away from the “real world”. However, if you step back and think about it, most of us are inundated with the secular values of the world all day through movies, TV, music, video games, commercials, magazines, books, and social media. There are actually fewer and fewer times in a week when teens are presented with good, positive things that reflect our Catholic values. Church, family time and youth groups are wonderful but why do our faith and entertainment have to be separate? Why not let some of these influences be Catholic? A mixture can actually highlight the differences and problems of our society. Maybe instead of Catholic fiction people would prefer the term value fiction.
4 - There’s not much out there and it’s hard to find.
I will be the first to agree that this is a huge problem. One thing I’ve been greatly disheartened by is that, for some reason, Catholic book stores often shy away from carrying fiction books and Christian book stores don’t always want to carry Catholic books. So, where do you find the types of books I’m talking about? Great question. The good news is there are some new, up and coming sites on the internet addressing this problem.
TumblarHouse.com is an online Catholic bookstore. Under their Marketplace tab, traditional Catholic books as well as fictional books for the whole family are listed.
Good News Book Fair is an organization that provides book fairs with clean, positive books for Catholic schools who want other choices for their students than what traditional publishers have to offer.
CatholicTeenBooks.com is a joint website, which I am part of, with numerous authors that all write Catholic teen fiction, in a wide variety of genres.
Goodreads is a website for book enthusiasts. Under their Browse tab, you can click on “lists” then search for books by typing in some key words like: Catholic teen books, Christian YA, or clean teen novels.
5 - Anything can be termed “Catholic fiction”, it might not accurately reflect church teachings.
While it’s not always possible to review all the books our kids read, there are a few ways to check into books. Reading the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads is a great way to get a sense of a book. Also, the Catholic Writer’s Guild has a program called The Seal of Approval. Authors submit their books, which are evaluated by several trained individuals. The Seal of Approval is only granted to those books that not only reflect the teachings of the Church but are also well-written. Their website lists the novels that have earned the Seal of Approval, ensuring that the books do not have any themes contrary to the church’s teachings.
As a mother and an author, I truly believe in the importance of a strong faith foundation in our young people. Every day there seems to be more and more pressures and negative messages thrown at our teens. I find it more important than ever to encourage our kids in their faith. Increasing their exposure to people of faith is a wonderful way to do this. Catholic teen fiction is a positive, fun way to make a difference in their lives.