Faith is one of the most underwritten subjects in YA, but when it’s done well, it can be the most fascinating. Not just because it’s an intriguing subject, whether you’re reading from within or outside of a life of religious faith, but because specifically in your teen years, when you’re legally guarded by someone else, your faith is at least initially dictated by your parental figures. In YA as in adolescent life, faith is inextricably linked to family, and to separate yourself from the religion of your family can be to force a rift that’ll last a lifetime—but to avoid doing so can be to lose yourself. These six books take close, hard looks at faith and family, and the places we have in each as we reach the age when we can legally make our own choices.
Conviction, by Kelly Loy Gilbert
Braden Raynor has had two constants in his life: baseball and his father, a Christian radio show host who’s just been arrested for the vehicular manslaughter of a police officer. With the latter awaiting trial, Braden is put in the custody of his estranged older brother, Trey, who would just as soon see their father fry. But Braden’s feelings are nowhere near as clear-cut, and as the facts of both their lives and the night of the officer’s death unfold, leading up to Braden’s testimony, his head, heart, loyalty, faith, and future are all put to the test. Incredibly thoughtful, compelling, honest, and complex, this is hands-down one of the best debuts I’ve read this year.
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Vivian Apple at the End of the World, by Katie Coyle
When the Rapture comes to fruition, it seemingly orphans Vivian Apple and her best friend, Harp. But as ardent nonbelievers in the Church of America, the girls know there’s more to the story that left two adult-shaped holes in Viv’s ceiling. As they embark on a road trip across the country to find more answers, allying themselves with a boy who seems to know quite a bit about the church himself, scary and hurtful truths come to light, changing everything they thought they knew. An intriguing, thoughtful read whose sequel, Vivian Apple Needs a Miracle, I will definitely be reading ASAP.
No Parking at the End Times, by Bryan Bliss
An interesting counterpart to Vivian Apple, Bliss’s debut showcases a family tied to an evangelist sect for whom the foretold Rapture day has failed to arrive. Trapped in a life of poverty, living in a van, and forsaking their education, thanks to their parents giving up everything they own to Brother John, Abigail and twin brother Aaron have no choice but to follow their parents’ lead…or do they? This book is something of a maddening read for exactly the right reason: two kids are effectively powerless to turn their lives around, because their parents hold all the legal and financial strings, and make what to both their kids and readers are clearly the wrong choices for the family’s welfare. So, basically, exactly how this could play out in real life.
Like No Other, by Una LaMarche
Devorah is a Hassidic girl, growing up with a super traditional, conservative family in an insular community. Jaxon is a black boy, bookish and charming. They both live in Brooklyn, and one night, during a hurricane, get stuck together in an elevator. What evolves from there is a sweet but forbidden romance between two teens learning they have far more in common than they thought. But no matter how strong their connection, it can’t overcome the fact that dating outside the Jewish faith is strictly forbidden for Devorah. To be together means to forsake her upbringing, and despite her mixed feelings about her family members and their attitudes in the name of religion, for Devorah it’s no easy choice.
Once Was Lost, by Sara Zarr
This is the final Zarr book on my to-read list, and there’s no question that an examination of maintaining one’s faith in the face of suffering is an extremely relevant topic in the realm of religion. When Sam’s mother lands in rehab and her pastor father is too busy with his own congregation to tend to her, Sam’s personal beliefs take a hit. And then a community-wide tragedy in the form of a girl’s kidnapping occurs, and Sam is left to wonder how anyone can believe in a divine power in a world where even those who are supposed to bestow human authority fail to live up to the task.
Devoted, by Jennifer Mathieu
Rachel is a devoted caretaker to her younger siblings in a family abiding by a religion modeled after the Quiverfull movement. But when she reaches out to a girl who was kicked out of the community, she learns just how much there is beyond the restrictive walls she knows. Eventually, Rachel is caught being disobedient, and she’s sentenced to the same reformative camp she’s seen prescribed to other rebellious community teens. But when she decides she’d rather live life on the outside than accept that fate, she learns how strong and permanent the consequences can be, for better or for worse.