YA is fearless when it comes to tackling tough issues, yet for some reason, religion is one of those weirdly taboo subjects that is, more often than not, ignored altogether. Nice Try, Jane Sinner is about a girl who decides to reinvent herself through community college, reality TV, and a whole slew of questionable (but necessary) choices. While I wouldn’t consider Nice Try, Jane Sinner a “religious” book, exactly, I think the role of faith (and subsequent lack of it) in Jane’s life has definitely shaped who she is. While faith might not appear to play a major role in mainstream culture today, it’s still an incredibly important part of so many teens’ lives.
I, for one, know what it’s like to grow up in a conservative Christian house and have conservative Christian friends and go to the same conservative Christian church for eighteen years. I also know what it’s like to drift away from that faith, and it’s an incredibly isolating experience. I was hugely self conscious about it, too. I took great comfort in books, but sometimes I didn’t want to read about extremely attractive, wealthy, and intelligent teenagers arching their eyebrows at each other in fancy boarding schools. I loved fantasy, but I was tired of brooding, fugitive princes and kickass girls with magical powers saving the world. I just wanted to read about a girl who was confident enough to own her beliefs (or lack thereof) at the lunch table. I didn’t care if kingdoms burned, if revolutions succeeded, if anyone fell in love. I just wanted that girl to end up okay. (Spoiler alert: she ends up just fine.)
Nice Try, Jane Sinner was my way of working through all that. The freeing thing about writing a journal (real or fictional) is that anything is fair game, no matter how seemingly private or trivial. Everything ends up mixed together. Jane’s parents might think her soul is in danger, but Jane still has to deal with exams and getting pinkeye and guarding her food from hungry roommates. Everything is big and mundane all at once, and humour helps it all go down easier. Jane develops a super guarded and wry sort of wit, great for keeping people at a distance, while internally she’s desperately trying to figure everything out. Writing humour wasn’t something I deliberately set out to do with Nice Try, Jane Sinner – writing things that made me laugh was literally the only way I could create a book about otherwise painful and difficult subjects.
I know a lot of authors say this about their own writing, but Nice Try, Jane Sinner is the book I wished I had growing up. As a teen struggling with faith, I rarely got to see myself in books. When books did mention my religion, it was either to take an easy shot at stereotypes for laughs (zealous high school chastity clubs, the uptight Christian girl who wears pink cardigans and hands out JESUS LOVES YOU pamphlets but is really kind of a bitch), or to demonize religion altogether (the evil religious sect trying to take over the kingdom). I’m the first to disagree with or challenge certain religious teachings, but I’m not interested in villainizing all people of faith in my writing. As soon as you do that, you close the door on meaningful conversation.
Teens are constantly reevaluating everything they’ve taken for granted growing up. They need to be able to challenge their beliefs, to question, doubt, and evolve their faith without being ridiculed, discredited, or ignored altogether. Teens can only make informed, rational decisions about their beliefs if they see their beliefs being taken seriously, and these kinds of discussions need to happen with empathy. I hope that teens will be able to see themselves in Nice Try, Jane Sinner, no matter what they believe.