November 21, 2017

The many flavors of Christian fiction

After a 2015 webinar, we learned that many librarians feel awkward assisting patrons with Christian fiction. In our informal poll asking for librarians’ most-feared genres, Christian fiction came up #2 -- only slight less feared than the #1 pick: Science fiction. If you aren't familiar with this genre, it's all too easy to stick with the tried-and-true or wave a patron over in the general direction of the (perhaps small) collection you have. Luckily, we have help for you.

As with any genre Christian fiction isn't one size fits all. As a judge for the 2017 Christy Awards, my reading confirmed this. A Christian fiction title could win in any of nine different categories, everything from historical fiction to contemporary romance to mysteries and even a visionary award for speculative fiction. With authors such as Ted Dekker writing novels involving vampires, serial killers, and re-animated corpses, there’s even room for Christian horror novels.

Consider the following books, all nominated for a Christy.

Long Way Gone by Charles Martin (winner of the Christy book of the year), is a moving tale about a homeless songwriter who returns home after a long absence, seeking reconciliation. It's an emotional tearjerker and contemporary version of the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Like a River from Its Course by Stuart Kelli is a disturbing World War II historical novel with on-the-page violence and brutality. Although there is a thread of hope, readers will have to sit through some moments that are difficult to read.

Then there's Beth Moore's The Undoing of Saint Silvanus, an atmospheric mystery set in New Orleans starring quirky characters. Readers who like southern mysteries for their sass and suspense will find a lot to enjoy here.

Although this wide variety exists, these consistent elements are important to readers of Christian fiction.

  • The story should be about authentic, relatable characters with culturally relevant problems.
  • The character will be forced to make difficult choices.
  • Even if terrible things happen during the story, there is a thread of hope that good will prevail in the end.
  • The character's relationship with God is what gets them through the hard times.
  • Although the main character may begin the story as bitter or ambivalent towards God, by the end of the novel, they will have seen that God had a plan all along.
  • No characters are presented as all good or all evil. Adversarial characters may have a weakness that explains how a once innocent character chose a different path. They may also express regret when confronted with their actions, showing them to have a conscience – even if it’s a weak one.
  • Relationships are important. Characters have deep connections to family, friends, and lovers.
  • For speculative Christian novels, the actions characters take have cosmic impact, reaching far beyond the local setting of the story. 

When helping readers of Christian fiction, consider the following techniques:

  • Start with awards. NoveList tracks the Christy Awards in our database; you can also view present and previous winners and finalists on the official Christy page. For the field code users, typing AW Y AND GN “Christian” in the NoveList search box will return a list of all the Christian fiction books in NoveList that have won awards, from the Christy Awards to Library Journal's Best Christian Fiction.
  • NoveList has 13 Christian fiction sub-genres to assist you. Want to see all of them? Download NoveList's Guide to Genres and Book Discovery and view page 13. In addition, use the language of appeals to fine-tune preferred tones, characters, and writing styles.  
  • If your local library subscribes to NextReads, sign up to receive the NextReads Christian fiction newsletter and keep up with forthcoming books curated by NoveList librarians. 

Use these starting points and your professional expertise to converse with Christian fiction readers and dive in to the richness and variety this genre contains.

Lindsey Dunn is a Readers' Advisory Librarian at NoveList. She's a kidlit expert and creates resources for all the librarians out there grappling with keeping up with what books kids are reading. Want to hear more from her? Sign up for Lindsey's Book Squad email updates.

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