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Why You Should Be Reading Young Adult Books

Parents and youth leaders alike are often worried about what teens are watching. TV shows, movies, games, music videos, they have a reputation of being ‘bad’ in various ways. But there’s another influence that’s more subtle and harder to discover. Do you know what your teens are reading?

The market for young adult books is booming, and with blockbusters like The Hunger Games and Divergent, teens are reading these books in bigger numbers than you would expect. But whereas many parents and youth leaders are at least somewhat up to date with what teens watch, many don’t have a clue what their teens read. And they should. Here’s why.

Many young adult books contain sex, and I’m not talking about just kissing here. There’s a whole new category developing called ‘new young adult’ which features explicit sex scenes between young people (an example is, for instance, The Coincident of Callie and Kayden, which I’ve reviewed). Granted, most of these books won’t be made into movies and may attract a smaller public than the blockbuster-books, but especially female students who love reading will encounter these. But even ‘normal’ young adult books contain sex that is inappropriate, like the casual sex in the Song of the Lioness series.

Many young adult books contain bad language. The f-bomb and the s-word are common in new young adult, but also in ‘normal’ young adult. The Fault in Our Stars, a book that’s very popular (the movie will be released weeks from now), is an example of some very rude language.

Many young adult books contain antireligious and sometimes downright anti-Christian themes. I’ve reviewed the Mortal Instruments series for example, where this was clearly the case. The same goes for the House of Night series and the Fallen books. Angels and demons, they all make an entrance and not in a biblically correct way. These are very popular books, read by many teenage girls. How do these anti-Christian messages affect them?

Many young adult books feature themes that teens encounter, that they know from their own lives. Eating disorders, bullying, sexual violence, abuse, unhealthy or abusive relationships. These are themes you hardly encounter in popular movies aimed at teens, but there are plenty of books that cover these. However, the ‘solutions’ offered often do not match the Christian approach.

My point is not that we should forbid teens to read certain books. That approach doesn’t work well with TV or movies either, as we all know. My point is that we should spend more time reading what teens read, so we can talk about it with them.

No matter how much we may object to the content of some of these books, the fact is that they offer an excellent starting point for discussions. If we can discuss the themes and issues of these books with our teens, I think we will be able to help them become more critical in what they read and digest.

One last thought. There’s another similarity between TV shows/movies and books. Most Christian movies are boring if not downright bad. Yes, there have been some excellent exceptions in the last years, but we’ve also seen some low points. Unfortunately, the same is the case for Christian young adult fiction.

Because most Chrstian publishers are very ‘safe,’ so are the books they publish. Christian young adult fiction isn’t always bad when it comes to the quality of writing, but it’s often way too safe to have an impact on teens. Especially those that are not fully committed to a life with Christ won’t recognize themselves in the ‘perfect Christian teens’ portrayed in so much of Christian fiction. These books often remind me of the old sitcoms like Growing Pains, where every problem was solved at the end of the episode.

In real life, that’s not the case, and until Christian young adult fiction starts resembling the messy reality of life (and the quality of young adult fiction—I’ve not encountered a fully Christian equivalent of books like The Hunger Games, for instance, in theme, execution and excitement), teens will prefer ‘unchristian’ books. And we should read them too.  

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rachelblom@churchleaders.com'
Rachel Blom has been involved in youth ministry in different roles since 1999, both as a volunteer as on staff. She simply loves teens and students and can't imagine her life without them. In youth ministry, preaching and leadership are her two big passions. Her focus right now is providing daily practical training through www.YouthLeadersAcademy.com to help other youth leaders grow and serve better in youth ministry. She resides near Munich in the south of Germany with her husband and son. You can visit Rachel at www.YouthLeadersAcademy.com