The spirituality gap in the youth fiction market
The last time I interviewed Penny Reeve, the award-winning author for Children and Young Adults (YA) lamented the lack of Christian spirituality in youth literature.
“In children’s fiction and YA, it seems like the Christian characters are either stereotypically unnecessary or just religious, so kids never get a chance to wonder if following Jesus is actually doing anything to your life. It’s a trend around the world, but in Australia in particular we are silencing questions about spirituality and especially in our YA fiction, ”she said. Eternity in 2019.
Now, as one of five female ADM 2022 scholarship winners, Penny is embarking on a project that she hopes will fill a significant thematic void in YA fiction.
ADM fellows have an office and scholarship, as well as a tailored professional and theological development program, as well as the opportunity to raise matching funds from their employer or a group of supporters. .
“[YA] tackles delicate topics head-on, but often remains silent when it comes to spirituality and faith. – Penny Reeve
Penny will use her ADM Fellowship to creatively explore ways in which teenage protagonists and storytelling plots can interact with spiritual matters. Her project will place spiritual questioning alongside common YA themes such as coming of age, identity, power and purpose.
Basing her creative practice on scholarship and research, Penny eventually hopes to create an anthology of stories that could be a safe literary space for teenage readers to consider faith, doubt, and belief.
“Young adult literature is known for its daring nature. He tackles delicate themes head-on, but often remains silent when it comes to spirituality and faith. My goal is to research and write a series of stimulating and entertaining short stories exploring the role and place of spiritual questioning. And to show readers that there is nothing wrong with wondering about spiritual things and engaging in the struggle with doubt.
Writing under the names Penny Reeve, Penny Jaye, and Ella Shine (with Cecily Anne Paterson), Penny has published over 20 books for children and youth. She writes under the name Penny Reeve when writing faith-inspired children’s books, and under the name Penny Jaye when writing for a general market, as with her young adult novel, Out of the cages.
“Out of the cages is a story about human trafficking and I have chosen not to touch on spiritual themes in this book. It was quite thematically heavy, ”she explains. “But as a Christian writer, everything I write comes from a kind of struggle that I have on my own spiritual journey. As I wrote Out of the cages, I was really aware of Galatians 5: 1 – it was for freedom that you were released. I see the novel as a parable of what we do with the freedom that Christ has given us. Christians can see it in the scripture, but it is by no means obvious.
“But with this new project, I hope to write and think very deliberately about the impact of spiritual questioning on character development, plot, and coming of age stories.”
“Adolescence is the year when you start to think about what you believe. Why do you believe it? “- Penny Reeve
Penny tells Eternity that she wants to build on her research into young adult fiction for her MA in Writing and Literature at Deakin University.
“My masters research focused on how Christian spirituality has been portrayed in young adult fiction. I noticed that there was a real divide in the academic and YA literature when it came to spirituality. In the general market, religion can be used as a framework, or it can be something a young person needs to break to find their own identity, but in terms of a character struggling with their own spirituality? These questions are either raised and ignored or not raised at all. And that sort of contradicts research on adolescent development, which says adolescence is the year you start to think about what you believe. Why do you believe it? Etc. “
So, part of Penny’s scholarship project will embark on doctoral research into the role spiritual questioning can play in coming-of-age narratives and reflect on how she can write in that space to allow these questions to exist.
“If young people think about spirituality and we know they are, then why can’t their stories also reflect or include some of that? ” she says. “We don’t always need a fiction that tells us what to believe. In fact, we usually don’t want fiction telling us what to believe. And we don’t always need fiction to guide us step by step through a spiritual process to come to a certain belief. But can our fictions question? Can they represent real life questions that young people might have about doubt, about belief, about God, my place in the universe, eternal life? Can they raise these questions in a way that not only feels like it’s covered in sticky notes, but is actually an integral part of character and plot development? “
With many young people considering faith in their formative years, Penny says it’s very natural, when trying to authentically portray a YA fictional character, that you portray their spirituality, as well as their romantic interest or that. that they are going to do when they grow up. at the top.
“Spirituality is not something only Christians think about. We all wonder about the meaning of life, our role in the universe, and whether or not there is a God. We all think about these things. We may think of them in a particular cultural setting or a particular religious setting, but we all think of these things. It is this eternity in our hearts that we all have.
One novel Penny discovered during her research was that of Clare Zorn The sky so heavy, which, she says, does a brilliant job of raising spiritual questions. Another is The truth about peacock blue, by Rosanne Hawke. Both books she recommends, even for readers who may no longer see themselves as “young adults.”
“But I haven’t seen a lot of books like that. And that is why I am eager to explore how spiritual questions can contribute to YA literature, and what we might accomplish by raising such questions.
Penny says spirituality can influence the values and direction of people’s lives. This often determines what they choose to believe in and fight for.
“Spirituality has an impact on everything that fascinates us. Whether it’s our feelings about protecting the world and taking action on climate change, or our beliefs about eternity and who God could be. Spirituality relates to all of these things in such a complex way, I think it’s a fantastic thing to explore in fiction.
Although Penny observed that children’s and teenage novels tend to contain a deeper meaning or a life lesson, this message can sometimes seem underdeveloped.
“Sometimes these lessons border on the spiritual, but they’re not quite there. They leave the very big questions open. I’d like to see if we can take it a step further. Encourage young adult readers to take the plunge; keep thinking, keep asking questions, keep growing, keep looking. If a reader came to the end of one of my stories and that was their attitude, I would be very happy.
You can find Penny Reeve’s books at Koorong here. Its websites are www.pennyreeve.com and www.pennyjaye.com