"Go on, Teri! They called your name."
"But why?" Teri slowly rose from her chair, searching Christy's face for the answer.
Christy spoke clearly. "Because God wanted you to be a cheerleader, and I knew it." --Surprise Endings (The Christy Miller Series)
What is Christian Fiction?
Christian fiction, a genre steadily rising in popularity in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, can be seen as an attempt to reclaim the ancient framework of the sacred. Just as medieval monks painstakingly decorated the pages of Biblical texts, works of Christian fiction, too, frame a Gospel message. Public Libraries defines the genre as "fiction that includes somewhere within its pages a clear-cut message of the gospel as presented in the Scriptures" but warns that readers are "not just seeking a wholesome story(Walker, 221). The distance between "wholesomeness" and "Christian fiction" describes a grey area of value-based dilemma. As beliefs can be individualized per sector or even per person, how can any Christian fiction be all-inclusive?
When examining Christian fiction, the value a work espouses should not be the central determinator of worth. As with other selection processes, literary merit and relevance should be given primary consideration. Juvenile and Young Adult Christian fiction, in addition to being well-written and appropriate, should not be exclusive in tone. Novels which define their Christian characters using "anti-tems" or "negative definitions" (in which characterization is created using a dramatic foil method and pair a "good" Christian against a stereotypical heathen) perpetuate a discrimination which should not be encouraged. Additionally, stories which portray Christians as fantasy-like figures of perfection are equally dubious.
Relying on the popularity of series fiction for young people, many Christian presses have published religious series for beginning, middle, and young adult readers alike. Bethany House and its Focus on the Family imprint are responsible for the YA offerings The Christy Miller Series and The Sierra Jenson Series.
Penned by Robin Jones Gunn, both series chronicle the trials and tribulations of two teenaged Christian girls, as they navigate the rocky path of adolescense while struggling to maintain their religious beliefs. Though both the Miller and Jenson families are Christian, Christy seems to be the most zealous believer in her clan, while Sierra wonders if she will ever be as secure in her faith as her relatives are. Both girls, however, wonder internally whether their beliefs are strong enough, doubt themselves and their motives while questioning the secular ways of those outside their circle of (primarily church-going) friends.
Christy and Sierra look to the Scriptures for guidance, though each find themselves equally influenced by a peer disciple. The influential teen is, in each case, a charming, good-looking, older male. Both girls are as intrigued by their partner's unflinching beliefs as they are by their romantic charisma. Christy meets Todd during a vacation at her aunt's beachside home and Sierra encounters Paul on an airplane. The chance meetings with these young men lead both girls to develop crushes on the handsome boys who seem so wise and so secure in their faith. The pseudo-boyfriends (Todd and Paul resist Christy and Sierra's innocent attempts at romantic overtures) flit in and out of the girls' lives, spending the majority of their time with estranged parents or on religious missions.
Innocent yet intriguing, the Sierra Jenson and Christy Miller series may not only appeal to a select audience; the books are comforting to believers and non-belivers alike. Sierra and Christy are not, by virtue of their religious association, super-heroines, though each does find security in her unquestioned beliefs. This peace, missing from much secular fiction, may be the series hook, the drug that induces further reading.
Click here for a Sierra Jenson and Christy Miller literature review.