Slate recently wrote about the huge business that is Christian Young Adult novels, and it got me thinking about the first books that spoke to me as a kid with great nostalgia and warmth. I always think of Lord of the Flies as being the first book that really grabbed me. When I was thirteen and dripping with angst, I absolutely identified with the young pot smoking mohawked protagonist in Rusell Banks’, "The Rule of the Bone." However, the very first book that I ever truly, lucidly, enjoyed was a sort of faux memoir called "Jay’s Journal." It was essentially the boys’ version of "Go Ask Alice," about a young boy who just can’t fit in and becomes interested in pot and devil worship. I was around eleven and this was the age of "Jeremy" by Pearl Jam, so borderline dangerous teen angst was the hottest ticket in town. I’d be remiss not to mention that I was quite drawn to SE Hinton’s novels due to my adolescent fixation with the Fonz. Novels geared toward young people can be good, in fact, they can be art.
If you check out any of the recent documentary films that focus on the evangelical movement such as, Hell House or Jesus Camp you might notice that the Christian Right seems to have a new enemy.
"Let me say something about Harry Potter," says the Ellen Degeneres-on Twinkies-looking psycho Christian camp director in the movie "Jesus Camp."
"Warlocks are enemies of god! Had it been in the Old Testament, Harry Potter would have been put to death!" Yes, Harry Potter it seems, is the new enemy of the Evangelical movement, and he’s brainwashing young lambs of god with devil’s most powerful and alluring tool, books.
Praise the Virgin Mary shaped potato chip that that Young Adult Christian fiction has burst onto the scene and become the hottest thing since Twilight. We now have a genre of novel that features young protagonists making good choices, such as a girl who chooses to wear a non-revealing bathing suit to the beach or one who refuses to put her hands to the planchette on the Ouija board (she was probably the one who would’ve have moved it anyway) because she knows that it’s first step toward committing human sacrifice for Satan.
Imagine if we’d given Catherine Marshall, author of the aptly named YAC classic "Christy," a wack at Kafka. Gregor Samsa would’ve have been immediately smashed with a holy fly swatter if he wasn’t willing to be saved by Jesus Christ. Josef K would have found out at the end of the book that the whole trial had taken place because of that time he said, "god dammit" in high school. If they could, the evangelicals would make all of our great contemporary art as "Christy" as possible.
I’d like to say that I don’t have a problem with this shit, but I absolutely do. Here’s why, Christianity is so unabashed. Let’s take for example a non-young adult Christian novel, A Clockwork Orange. I’m not kidding, Anthony Burgess’ book was in fact a Christian novel intended to show how evil a man could become without god in his life. When the novel was first published in the UK, it ended with Alex, the ultra-violent droog we all know and love, finding Jesus and repenting for the sins he’d committed throughout the book. When the novel was released in the US, the publishers realized what a cheesy ending this was, and simply lopped it off. In fact, the novel’s author, Anthony Burgress, h
ated Stanley Kubrick for leaving the Christian message out of his film adaptation of the book. If you don’t believe me, walk into a Christian bookstore and ask for A Clockwork Orange.
Christianity is powerful, so powerful that it can suck the profundity, the pathos, the art out of anything. Be it fiction, skateboarding or punk rock, if you add religion into the equation you come up with the artistic equivalent of the Shamwow, it’s just a fucking a towel.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-Christian and I do think it’s possible to have Christian themes in music or art without ruining it. Mewithoutyou’s last album was fantastic. Jay Baker has done some interesting stuff with his spirituality and the roots of this whole YA Christian fiction genre go back to CS Lewis, a master of fantasy fiction. Lewis was a great talent who wasn’t afraid of being castigated for the occult implications of a mystical closet. Even LOST had spiritual themes. I suppose, that like everything else there is a happy medium but this YAC stuff is terrible and a waste of time. At least, that’s what I thought until I read one of those Gossip Girl novels, and now I sort of understand the need.