One of my favorite reads in the two years is a gem called Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork. It’s about a teenage boy who exhibits autism-spectrum traits. Marcelo’s father wants him to break out of the comfortable, sheltered world Marcelo inhabits, so he arranges for his son to take a summer internship at his law firm instead of caring for the horses at Marcelo’s school. It’s a beautiful book, and notable for a number of reasons, one of which I’d like to talk about in this post.
Although a diagnosis is never explicit in the text, Marcelo’s traits indicate a high-funtioning form of Autism such as Asperger’s syndrome. One of Marcelo’s peculiarities is an active, intense interest in religion. He studies his own Catholic faith, but also studies and discusses religious philosophy with a friend of his mother’s, a rabbi. Stork manages to integrate religion into his narrative quite seamlessly. As Marcelo faces the ambiguity that necessarily accompanies the coming-of-age experience, he’s guided by more than his own experience. Stork weaves religious thought and practice into his discussion of right and wrong, guilt and innocence.
Not many authors attempt this at all in young adult, and certainly few do it well. Outside of the niche Christian fiction market (disclaimer: I have read very little of this, but frequently come across reviews for these publications. My admittedly limited perception of them is that they are generally somewhat shallow and clichéd representations of teenage experience), it seems religion is either politicized or ignored all together.
I find this disappointing and sort of strange. I tend to think adolescence is an interesting time for most people in terms of faith and religion. You begin to think, to question, to explore, accept and reject different mythologies. Stork adeptly tackles that process with Marcelo. I can’t think of another YA author of whom I can say the same.
What does that have to do with this blog? Well, I want to know who you think does religion, particularly Mormon religion well. Are there LDS authors (let’s limit the discussion to YA stuff) who have effectively presented either religious practice or philosophy in their stories? How do they make it work without alienating readers who are outside of that faith community?