“If you look past the Bible-study scenes, young-adult novels from evangelical authors and publishers are offering their young Christian readers a surprisingly empowering guide to adolescence,” claims a writer for Slate. (The writer is not so positive about them as this opening claim suggests, by the way, and in comments at the end proves herself clueless about Christianity.) In Are You There, God? , Ruth Graham writes that,

Created as a “safe” alternative to mainstream fiction, books for Christian girls include wholesome heroines, lots of praying, and absolutely no cursing. And they’re a big business. The Christy Miller and Sierra Jensen series—now Christian YA classics—have sold more than 2 million copies between them, and the  Diary of a Teenage Girl books have sold more than 600,000 copies since 2008.

Most Christian publishers have guidelines for taboo words and situations, and some also have in-house theologians vet content to make sure it adheres to “Biblical principles.” Amid all of this piety, however, are explicitly positive—even feminist—messages like positive body image, hard work, and the importance of not settling for just any guy—that present a grounded alternative to the  Gossip Girl landscape.

I hope this is true, since ten to twenty years ago when I was reviewing such books looking for good reading for our eldest, almost all the Christian books I saw were quite bad, and left you feeling preached at, and often preached at to push a culture that was fundamentalist but not necessarily Christian.  The purpose of the stories was the lesson, not the story.

From Graham’s description, these new girls’ books don’t in fact seem particularly Christian, unless Christianity is reduced to a certain code of behavior.

In the newest books, old-fashioned values are embraced for newfangled reasons. Modesty is endorsed, not because of shame, but because of self-respect and practicality: Protagonist DJ in  Spring Breakdown opts for a one-piece swimsuit over a teensy bikini because, “I like to swim. And I like to move around.” Besides, another character reflects later, “Sometimes subtle is sexy.”

That is true, but it is not modesty. It’s the opposite. Practicality is not modesty either. None of these reasons, nor those mentioned elsewhere in the story, are actually “Christian values,” even though they support decisions Christians would generally approve. They’re aren’t really “old-fashioned values” either, as that term is usually understood.

If Graham is right, these writers have merely taken the lessons they want to teach and found practical or worldly reasons for them. Most of these lessons and reasons may be perfectly good ones, but they are not distinctively Christian reasons, reasons that have to do with who we are in Christ, and they should not be packaged as such. Doing so teaches the readers (for these books, girls) to think of Christianity as a this-worldly enterprise, as practical and effective, as an instrument, but not as a life lived in this world but not of it.

For those who are interested, I’ve written on this subject myself, in  Enchanting Children and Bad Books for Kids .

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