Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving Post, or How to Strain a Metaphor

Michael Cart’s recent article about religion in YA books reminded me that Thanksgiving is coming.

Our Thanksgiving celebration this year will be rather large, somewhere between twenty and thirty people, mostly relatives. There will be hundreds of brief conversations. We will talk about the weather (brrr!), the food (yum!), our jobs (or lack thereof), our physical ailments (plentiful), recent amusing or dramatic events, pets, and many other mundane things of general interest. 

We will avoid talking about religion, politics, sex, or money.

That’s kind of like the situation in Young Adult literature. There are things we don’t talk about. Check out the YA section in your local bookstore. The largest subcategories will be “sci-fi/fantasy” and “paranormal,” and most of these books that take place in a fantasy environment in which there might be gods, but no God. Yahweh, Jesus, and Allah do not exist in these worlds, or if they do, their existence is largely ignored. Same goes for “realistic” YA, where most characters exist in a world where religion is never mentioned, which is not realistic at all.

Yes, there are YA novels that deal directly with religion—I could name thirty or forty of them without looking too hard—but considering the tens of thousands of YA novels that have been published over the past three decades, such books are relatively rare.

It comes down to economics, I suppose. A writer who makes his or her readers uncomfortable doesn’t sell very many books, and we readers are uncomfortable when encountering views on religion that conflict with our own.

It used to be that we didn’t talk about sex and sexual orientation in YA. That’s changing fast. But religion? It’s pretty much the same don’t-go-there attitude as was prevalent when I first started publishing.

I’m bringing this up now because my next book, Eden West, is about a boy who grows up in a close-knit and insular doomsday cult, and what happens when an outsider infects his worldview.

I started working on Eden West around the same time I started work on Godless, about twelve years ago. Not sure why it took so long to finish. I changed course a few times, and made an unusual (for me) number of top-to-bottom revisions, but still, twelve years is a long time. Anyway, it’s done. Eden West will be showing up in bookstores next April—like an inappropriate uncle at Thanksgiving dinner.

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