Religious Novels in the ABA Market
October 22, 2012My first children's books were published in the Christian Booksellers' Association (CBA) market, so people sometimes ask me why I don't write exclusively for the Christian market. What they may not know is that the major Christian publishers are owned by secular (ABA) publishers: HarperCollins owns Zondervon and Thomas Nelson; Random House owns Multnomah and Waterbrook Press; Simon & Schuster owns Howard Publishing.
What also surprises them is when I say that some of the best-written, intellectually thought-provoking religious novels are published and sold in the American Booksellers Association (ABA) market. Here is just a sampling of novels where the protagonist grapples with issues of his or her faith:
WHEN WE WERE SAINTS by Han Nolan, published by Harcourt books, 2003, editor Karen Grove -- Archibald Lee Caswell is a sinner whose grandfather, on his deathbed, points at him and says, "…you are a saint!" The rest of this deeply religious book explores what it means to be a saint.
I love all of Nolan's books. However, a particular favorite of mine that also explores faith is SEND DOWN A MIRACLE published by Harcourt, 1996. This is a powerful book about the difference between following a legalistic religion and knowing the God of mercy, love, and forgiveness.
THE CALLING by Cathryn Clinton, published by Candlewick press, 2001 -- This is a story about a 12-year-old Pentecostal preacher in South Carolina. Esther Leah Ridley is anointed with the gift of healing. But what her uncle, the crusade leader, has not counted on is that Esta also has the gift of discernment.
David Almond is another author who often writes about religious themes. One of my favorites is CLAY, published by Delacorte Press, 2005. Imagine, since God created man from clay and a part of man is evil, then how monstrous would a man be if created from clay by man, not God? This gripping Irish novel explores the dual nature of man--good and evil--and the theological concepts of a good God, evil, the devil, angels, saints and sinners.
My favorite Jewish author, Chaim Potok, wrote MY NAME IS ASHER LEV, published by Penguin, 1973, about a Hasidic Jew who struggles with practicing his religion and creating art that is contrary to his religious beliefs.
Similarly, John Ritter wrote the historical novel CHOOSING UP SIDES, 1998, about a lefty who struggles with his father's legalistic religion (Southern Baptist) and his love of baseball, which is forbidden by his father. (Interesting note, Ritter's Philomel publisher-editor told me the original title was LEFT OUT OF HEAVEN before it was changed before publication to CHOOSING UP SIDES.) In another of Ritter's baseball books, OVER THE WALL, published by Puffin, 2002, the protagonist is a Christian and attends church, although it's not overt in overcoming his struggles.
There are other novels where church attendance is just a normal part of the main character's life. And values taught in Christianity work out through the character's problems. Two examples are WHEN ZACHARY BEAVER CAME TO TOWN by Kimberly Willis Holt, editor Christy Ottaviano, published by Henry Holt, 1999. The protagonist and his friends find a way to baptize Zachary. BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo, published by Candlewick, 2000, is another middle grade novel that is about God's grace, forgiveness, and love.
Any of these novels are worthy of writing an academic literary criticisms on religious themes.
UPDATE: Since I wrote this article, my debut novel NO SURRENDER SOLDIER was published by a secular publisher Merit Press/Adams Media/F&W Media and then was acquired by Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster. NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, a historical suspense, is a very spiritual novel, even having been taught in Catholic high schools and favorably reviewed by the Catholic Library Association journal.
What are your favorite religious novels, and why? Are they published in the ABA market, or by a religious press?