My Teenage Quest for Meaning was prescribed by my family’s religion. One by one my friends and I got baptized–symbolized our dedication to the faith–as teens (or some left the faith, as I eventually did). That was only the beginning of my Quest. From there we did hours of service and study. I took it all very seriously. I eagerly sought answers through my church, and I was very active in the ministry.
I’ve read enough teen fiction to know that this is a pretty typical experience. Religion has always had a strong place in teen fiction. Remember Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret? Girls might remember it as the book that de-mystified puberty, but Margaret’s search for spiritual answers was a strong sub-plot that often gets forgotten.
I was thinking of this now-classic titles as I read Marc Aronson’s post on his School Library Journal blog in which he wonders about the epiphany (religious or otherwise) in teen fiction among the recent popularity of genre fiction (fantasy and dystopian, in particular). He wonders,
“What happened to that sense of adolescence as a time of spiritual yearning, seeking big answers, asking big questions, seeing the universe in a grain of sand, feeling that there were deep truths in a smile, in a tree, a sunset, a touch, a force beyond us?”
It’s there. The teens who are searching for a religious epiphany (or those looking to experience it vicariously via fiction) can read The Glory Wind by Valerie Sherrard or Irises by Fransisco X. Stork.
You can find epiphany through science like Mina in Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature, travel like Colby in The Disenchantments, or music like Troy in Fat Kid Rules the World.
Perhaps I am biased to Troy’s version of transcendence since live music has become my own version of church these days, but I list Troy’s first show in Fat Kid Rules the World as one of my favorite moments in all of teen fiction.
“I thrash forward, staking my ground, letting the body heat soak into my skin. For once I enjoy sweating. I lap it up. My sweat is the salt water left over from the tidal wave. I’m short of breath from yelling so loud. Each song builds on the first, never letting the energy subside. The second song is about sex and I can feel my head ready to explode. A woman in black leather winks at me across the room and suddenly I’m a fucking sex god. My body swells until I fill the room. I’m not fat. I’m enormous. I look out over the crowd and think for the first time, I could be bigger. I could be even bigger…”
Sounds like transcendence to me. :)
It’s been a long time since I was a teenager, but my Quest for Meaning continues even now. I’m no longer religious, which just means that my path has opened up to include more possibilities for big questions, big answers, and whatever else might come my way.
I am grateful for all that I’ve experienced along the way. I hope my daughter has many of the same opportunities as I have had. As for books, I’ll have plenty of coming-of-age novels for her to choose from in our home library. The Teenage Quest for Meaning lives on.
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For more about religion & science, see my Secular Thursday page.