Hucksters and Saints

Debut novelist Bryan Bliss (No Parking at the End Times) wrote a great column for the School Library Journal about honest questions in YA lit, particularly in YA books that portray religion.

He’s adamantly against YA books where faith is neat and tidy and there’s a hefty dose of salvation as part of the book’s resolution. As he says, “a book dealing with religion needs to highlight the cracks in the foundation. It needs to show both hucksters and saints, while never stooping to the knee jerk assumption that teenagers only want stories that mock religion.”

I think that goes for adult readers, too.

As a tween and teen, I read a fair number of those Christian prairie romance novels where the sheriff/schoolteacher/loner cowboy found religion so the schoolteacher/town nurse/young widow could safely fall in love with him. I was a voracious reader in middle school too and I knew my family was concerned about me reading books that were too old for me. So I when grandma gave me more of this kind of novel every birthday or Christmas, I dutifully read them. (And then read John Grisham novels at school where they couldn’t see me ….)

Somewhere in the middle of college (and the middle of the Left Behind series,) those stories all turned dry for me. There were no hucksters, no people like me who were trying and failing (oh how much failing there was) at being a person of faith.

Around this time, I took a fiction writing class and we read a great book of interviews with writers who did write less than perfect characters. Frederick Buechner. Barbara Kingsolver. Clyde Edgerton. They all talked about faith wasn’t easy for their characters. I started reading these authors too, and found myself in the company of exactly the kind of characters Bliss was describing.

Because I love novels like this, I asked Bryan Bliss and Anthony Breznican (who had retweeted a the link to Bliss’ article and got this things rolling in the first place and whose own novel takes a tough look at the culture of a Catholic school) who they considered to be writers of hucksters and saints. I suggested Buechner, Marilynne Robinson and William Kent Krueger’s “Ordinary Grace” as good examples. And then this happened:

huckster stream

“My Name is Asher Lev” also got the nod.

I admit, I roll my eyes at a lot of Christian fiction. I know that it speaks to some people. My derision really hurt a friend of mine who enjoys it and I had to ask her forgiveness (I am still failing at being a person of faith…)

I agree with Bryan Bliss that good fiction about religion needs Hucksters and Saints and these are all great suggestions if you want to see what we mean.


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