Why is Christian Spec-Fic Mostly YA?

I suppose I should be glad that young adults are reading Christian speculative fiction. But the truth is, I’m disheartened. Why? It’s not translating into more adult Christian speculative fiction. My friend Becky Miller sponsors The Clive Staples Award (CSA), a readers choice award recognizing the best in Christian Speculative Fiction. When she unveiled The 2010 Clive Staples Award Winner, I’ll be honest, I was a little disappointed. Why? According to this readers choice award, apparently the best Christian speculative fiction is for kids. Not only was the CSA top vote getter a Young Adult novel, four of the top five winners were YA!Before I proceed, let me clarify: I am not suggesting that Young Adult fiction is inferior to adult fiction. Nor am I ignoring the fact that small presses (like Marcher Lord Press, Splashdown Books, Port Yonder Press, etc.) are starting to publish more adult Christian spec titles. I also recognize that much YA is consumed by adults.

Nevertheless, I think The Clive Staples Award is representative of a very important trend. In the same way that women’s fiction comprises 80% of the Christian fiction market, YA comprises the bulk of the Christian speculative market. But what does it say about the state of Christian speculative fiction that the best, most popular stuff, is YA? Some may find encouragement in this. Indeed, the fact that kids are reading is a good thing. After all, “teen” readers will eventually become “adult” readers. But if the CSA is any indication, this “transition” from “teen reader” to “adult reader” — at least as it relates to Christian speculative fiction — is not happening very quickly. If it’s happening at all. So where’s the “adult” Christian spec-fic? And why is Christian spec-fic constituted so heavily by YA? I have two theories: First, YA speculative fiction is simply more compatible with the Christian market’s “family friendly” image than is adult spec-fic. In fact, “adult” themes often don’t fit well in the Christian market. (Don’t believe me? Follow the discussion thread in THIS RECENT NR POST where writers debate whether adultery is viable as a “Christian” subject.) Contemporary “adult” spec-fic not only must be free to “speculate,” it must be “adult.” But neither of those things come easy in today’s overly-sanitized religious market. In this way, YA speculative fiction is much better suited for CBA / ECPA readers because it doesn’t need to have the “bite” that adult spec-fic does, and can more easily skirt taboos of sex, language, and questionable theology. Which is why much Christian YA spec-fic tends to involve lots of dragons, elves, and swordsmiths.Second, parents are deeply motivated to get something “Christian” into the hands of their teenagers, alternatives to the Harry Potters and Twilights of the world. In this sense, adults may actually be behind the Christian YA movement. However, this may say as much about the type of Christian teens we want to raise, as it does about the types of fiction we want them to read. Anyway, that’s my going theory. While I should be excited that young adults are reading, I can’t help but ask, Where’s the “adult” Christian spec-fic? Discovering C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy and Till We Have Faces, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, George MacDonald, Charles Williams, and G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, were some of the most exciting times of my life as a Christian reader. Discovering that those books were 50+ years old and still have no contemporary equals, was depressing. Perhaps we just can’t write like that anymore. It’s bad enough that speculative fiction is under-represented in Christian bookstores. What’s worse is that the stuff that IS there, is mostly for kids. Anyway, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you agree that adult spec-fic is under-represented in the CBA? Is there any validity to my suggestions that YA does well in the Christian market because “adult” themes don’t always fit, and that Christian parents are anxious to find alternatives for their Twilight, Harry Potter-loving kids?

Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin’ Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Mike’s debut novel, “The Resurrection,” is in stores now. You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.