I should probably start by saying: "I'm not Rikki. I'm her cousin Dan, who normally blogs on a thing called Keyboard Theologians."
So I was told by my cousin, who writes this thing, that I could guest post if I wanted.
To paraphrase that great literary mystic G.K. Chesterton, it may have been an incautious suggestion to make to a person ready to write blog posts upon the feeblest provocation.
Now I can't really talk much to young adult Christian fiction. Most of my experience of that was the Wally McDoogle series from Bill Myers, which was awesome. I think I also read some guy whose last name was Lewis, on occasion.
But I digress.
Christian fiction! More recently than my childhood, I've read two Chestertonian novels, three Graham Greene books and five of six novels by Walker Percy. One Flannery O'Connor, and Young's The Shack, and I reread one from that Lewis guy. I should warn that Chesterton's really the only one of those three first writers that is safely readable by those in their teens, though if the current canon of high school lit is any indicator, nobody's really got any right to object to high schoolers reading the lighter of Percy and Greene's works. Just don't expect them to get theology.
While I've written one or two things you could call Christian fiction I'm going to make three observations about the things I've found inspiring and good in Christian fiction. Essentially, I'm going to talk about, on an inspirational/theological level, what makes these authors awesome.
(1) Good Christian characters are sinful, not perfect or evil. But they are believing Christians.
The world already suspects enough that we Christians are people who clean the outside of our bowls and leave the insides dirty. An unbelieving world will not find truly saintly believers believable--at least, not if the whole world seems to be full of them.
That said, if all our Christian characters never strive for Sainthood, if they're not trying to "be perfect" as Our Heavenly Father is, this would be equally flawed, and is probably the biggest danger of a writer like Greene.
Note that there can be something edifying about a bad believing Christian in a novel, or even an evil one. But I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that for YA fiction, it's probably best to keep at least one good example front and center.
(2) God is found throughout the book.
That may be kind of an odd phrase.
What I mean is, there should be a pretty consistent and continual presence of grace. If the book comes from a Christian perspective, one will notice this in the book as a whole, but not only there, but fairly consistently throughout. I'm certain there are exceptions, but the only big one coming to mind is if something near the end of a novel makes you realize just how providential everything was behind the scenes. While he's not necessarily the world's most Christian author, John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany is the only work I have under my reading belt that really seemed to do this. But I do feel it is good, if a novel reflects the faith, if it does so consistently, not coming and going chapter-to-chapter.
(3) A reader experiences a moment of the grace and/or the beauty of God in the reading.
This one's probably the most dangerously subjective of the three, but I think we've all had it. There will be moments, of God's beauty, or grace, or both, that a book finds ways to communicate to us. And though, due to the nature of the thing, I can't quite communicate how it feels to me, it's almost as if the work becomes a bit sacramental, and pulls me out of the almost dream-like state of living for a second, or into a place of understanding. Some variations make you want to laugh at the moment of grace or beauty. Others will make you want to cry.
Examples of books that do these things:
The Man Who Was Thursday
The End of the Affair
The Power and the Glory
The Last Gentleman
Love in the Ruins
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Hopefully these are generalized enough for people to get stuff out of even if they haven't read the authors in question, but they are good authors and were orthodox, if not always good, Christians in their time, so they're definitely not bad reading.
It's definitely true that not every Christian book I've read has done all three of these; while I consider Walker Percy a fantastic author, one or two of his novels lost me on point number two, and one lost me on points two and three. Graham Greene rode the line in Brighton Rock of just how bad of Catholics his characters can be.
In fact, I'm not sure if I can name a book right now that I can confidently say did all three of these things beginning to end, flawlessly, though the writers I've been putting out there in this post definitely came close.
Anyway, there's my thoughts. Hopefully they were somewhat useful. I highly recommend that anyone aspiring to good Christian fiction or even good fiction in general go out and read that list of books; if nothing else they ought to make you think.