Most of the time, I avoid books with the potential to make me cry. Frankly, I do most of my reading these days on my commute, and I hate to cry on the bus. It has happened more times than I care to admit despite my attempts to screen out tearjerker titles from my to-read pile.
Recently, though, I found myself reading J.J. Johnson’s new teen novel The Theory of Everything on my bus ride home from work. It was clearly about grief and loss, which would usually be screened, but it managed to intrigue me anyway. I’m glad it did. It was a nice contrast to the many, many novels about grief that invoke faith. (Not to knock those that do invoke faith when characters are grieving; See You At Harry’s, for example, is excellent.) In TToE, Sarah isn’t particularly religious, and when her best friend dies in a freak accident, people offer religious ideas to comfort her. Sarah finds it more alienating than comforting, especially when it comes from her boyfriend who turns out to be more religious than she thought. The book isn’t all sad, though. Sarah is a snarky narrator, and each chapter begins with a humorous chart or diagram. I appreciated these attempts to off-set the grief, and Sarah’s growth throughout the novel made this a book I would recommend to readers who enjoy the tragicomic.
This is somewhat similar to another book I read recently that addressed loss. In 37 Things I Love by Kekla Magoon, Ellis narrates her feelings as she and her mother make the decision to take her father off life support:
“We’re not religious, but when I think about what’ll happen when Dad goes away, I have to wonder. I don’t know if I like the idea of an afterlife. It feels like a huge gamble. I mean, it’s pretty much fifty-fifty that there’s life after death. But on top of that, it’s fifty-fifty that life after death is going to be something worth hoping for. You just don’t know what you’re casting your lot toward. It could be awesome, a euphoric heaven where you never feel worried or hurt. Or it could totally blow, and then you’re really stuck. What if heaven/eternity/forever is this horrible trap that’s way worse than life as we know it?
Maybe it’s better if the end is just the end.”
It’s good for teens to read that there are many ways to find comfort when you lose someone you love. These books introduce the idea that one person’s answer isn’t necessarily going to be your answer. I think that’s an important thing for teens to know.
I’ll add these books to the very short list of teen fiction with secular main characters, and I’ll go back to reading books that won’t make me cry.
However, if you do like to read books that make you cry, here is a list of Contemporary YA Fiction about Grief and Loss from Stacked.
Also pictured: After Eli by Rebecca Rupp, which has a young teen dealing with the death of his older brother. It is for a slightly younger audience (middle school) than the TToE and 37 Things, which are for teens.
For more about secular family life, see my Secular Thursday page or check out the Books for Secular Families Amazon Book Shop. A portion of purchases made from Amazon.com links on this site benefit Proper Noun Blog. Thanks for your support!