Exploring the Unfamiliar Realm of Religion in Young Adult Literature
Julie Berry. The Passion of Dolssa
. New York: Viking Books for Young Readers, 2016. 496 pp.
Jeff Zentner. The Serpent King
. New York: Crown Books for Young Readers, 2016. 384 pp.
Reviewed by Jon Ostenson
Modern young adult literature traces its roots to 1967, when S. E. Hinton’s book The Outsiders
was published and subsequently devoured by young readers who were desperate for literature that spoke to them and reflected the realities they saw daily. In the ensuing years, young adult literature has bravely explored controversial topics like class struggle, mental illnesses, drug abuse, and sexuality, all in the name of allowing teen readers a chance to explore the “real” world. One element of teens’ lives, however, that has often been overlooked in the literature is religion and spirituality. Despite the results of the recent National Study of Youth and Religion showing that nearly forty percent of teens report actively participating in organized religion, religious characters and explorations of spirituality are rarely treated in young adult literature.
The two titles I review here, The Passion of Dolssa
by Julie Berry and The Serpent King
by Jeff Zentner, counter this trend, presenting characters who wrestle with issues of faith and belief as they navigate the challenges of their world.