Once upon a time, Christian fiction for children and teens consisted mainly of books that either featured sweet pious little children or were fictionalized biographies of missionaries. The children's/YA Christian book market has changed (although you can still find sweet pious little children and fictionalized biographies of missionaries). The stories have changed, the marketing has changed, the covers have changed...the covers! Take a look at these covers. Which one do you think is the YA Christian novel?
They're all YA Christian fiction. Surprised?
Just as adult Christian fiction has modernized and diversified, so has YA Christian fiction. The essence of YA fiction is coming of age; the main character experiences a mark of maturity, whether it's realistic fiction, fantasy/science fiction, or adventure. The essence of Christian fiction is a challenge or change in the main character's faith; the story is how she/he grapples with this challenge or change, and the conclusion is a return to faith, albeit a more complicated, messy, and deeper faith. Just as modern adult Christian fiction doesn't shy away from contemporary problems (divorce, alcoholism, and so on), most modern YA Christian fiction doesn't shy away from problems and issues faced by real Christian teens. Such as popularity and fitting in. The opposite sex. And teenage pregnancy.
I was absolutely delighted when I read about Nikki Grimes's new relationship with Zondervan. Nikki Grimes is a well-known and well-loved author in children's literature (I am loving her new Dyamonde Daniel series). Her characters are authentic and believable; her writing has earned her awards and recognition, but remains appealing, realistic, and identifiable for all children, regardless of their heritage or background. Zondervan, with its children's and teen divisions, Zonderkidz and Youth Specialties, is one of the largest Christian publishers in the current market. I was eager to discover the fruits of this relationship, and I am very pleased to tell you that A Girl Named Mister is a strong and remarkable addition to YA Christian fiction.
Mary Rudine's real name isn't Mister, of course; it's just a nickname created from her initials. Mister's life has centered around her church for as long as she can remember; youth group and choir make up a major portion of her social life. That changes when she meets Trey. Trey is super fine; although he hangs out with the youth group from time to time, he's not really part of the group.
One thing leads to another, and Mary finds herself pregnant. Scared, confused, and feeling alone, she happens upon a book of poetry written from the Virgin Mary's point of view. Mary's initial confusion over her pregnancy, her fear about what her betrothed, Joseph, will say when she tells him the news, the gossiping neighbors, and wonder about her unborn child bring comfort to Mister as she struggles to tell her mother and decide about her baby's future.
A Girl Named Mister is a heartfelt and truthful look at teen pregnancy. It is not judgemental or preachy. And to address a criticism made in an Amazon.com review: Grimes does not compare Mister to the Virgin Mary in any way. She presents Mister's journey through pregnancy alongside Mary's journal, but this does not mean that she is comparing the two. Not at all.
It would also be a good book club discussion for teens, as the ending is rather ambiguous and ripe for discussion.
Coming up: My third awesome read in a row, plus December orders and my top 10 books of 2010. I'll also tell you about Shine, Coconut Moon. It's an excellent debut novel about a Sikh girl discovering her Indian roots and the Sikh faith after the events of 9-11.