Diversity in Christian Fiction

community-309932_640You may have heard of the We Need Diverse Books organization that addresses the need for diversity in children’s literature, including the need for more books with characters of different races and ethnicities.

While I can’t say that, as a child, I personally felt that I couldn’t relate to characters in books unless they were one color or another (race wasn’t something I thought a whole lot about, back then), I have respect for the mission of We Need Diverse Books. Yes, I believe that all different races of children should have wide access to reading about all different races of people.

I also believe that the need for diverse books doesn’t stop at children’s literature. I suppose a number of genres could be addressed in light of this topic, but as the title of this blog post indicates, I’ve set out to address Christian Fiction.

I’ve been a big Christian Fiction fan since my adolescence, and I’d like to see more diverse books published by Christian publishers, particularly some of the larger ones. That’s not a complaint or an accusation against anyone, nor is it a claim that diversity in Christian Fiction doesn’t exist. This is simply an expressed desire to see more of it, to better reflect diversity in Christianity.

I’ve nothing against publishing houses, imprints, or genre and subgenre categories that are meant to target specific niche markets and readers’ tastes.stack-of-paperbacks-md Oh, it may not be very feminist of me to have little problem with the terms “Women’s Fiction” or “Chick Lit,” books written by women and/or specifically marketed to women. Hey, I’m a woman and a pretty awesome chick–market your fiction and lit to me as much as you wish, dear publishers. More love to women! We’re great. And if Men’s Fiction becomes a mainstream genre designation, then, hey. More love to men! They’re great.

However, I’d never wish to see a day when all, or even most, books with female main characters could only be found in Women’s Fiction, or all or most books with male main characters could only be found in Men’s Fiction. How would that even work? :-D At some point, these men and these women would have to come together in order for humanity to be humanity.

Similarly, as I don’t think that fiction should always or mostly be divided along gender lines, I don’t think that Christian Fiction should always or mostly be divided along racial lines, as if Christian Fiction should in large part be, well, segregated. Readers shouldn’t only run across Christian novels with diverse characters when they’re specifically seeking out Urban Christian Fiction, multicultural issues, novels about slavery or the Civil War, or what have you.

Civil War novels, Urban Christian Fiction, and multicultural topics and the like are wonderful, and I read my share of all of it. Yet, there are themes and experiences that are true to humanity and aren’t necessarily based on race. The birth of a child, the death of a loved one, the excitement of falling in love–the human story isn’t limited to any one color, and neither is the Christian experience (to use broad terms, as, of course, different “Christians” have different “experiences.”) A novel about an African-American Christian fireman or about a Hispanic Christian businesswoman doesn’t have to be a novel primarily concerned with their race, as if having prominent characters of color should be limited to stories focused on racial issues. At the same time, there’s so much beauty to be found in different races and ethnicities, so why wouldn’t readers of Christian Fiction want to see more of a mix of characters going through what humans go through because they’re human, written from Christian perspectives?

I realize that Christian publishers, like any publishers, are looking to make money, to put out products that will sell. I’m not sure how deep or far certain marketing facts or assumptions may run: “Caucasian readers likely won’t buy books with African-American protagonists pictured on the covers,” or “African-American readers likely won’t buy books with Japanese protagonists pictured on the covers,” or “In light of our popular authors and the demographics of their reading audiences, a need for more diverse books doesn’t seem too great at present.” I don’t know what all the cases may be, and I’m not a marketing expert.

Country ChurchStill, as the Bible that we uphold in Christendom says that God made of one blood all nations of people, I think it’d be incredible for Christian Fiction to reflect this on a greater scale, with publishers not having to say, “Here are our black authors, and there are our white authors,” or “Here are our novels for a white audience, and there are our novels for a black audience.” Again, while different targets, niches, and subgenres are fantastic, we’re all human beings, and a more diverse mix in Christian Fiction can give different races of readers wider access to stories about all of us, with all of our beautiful differences.

Now, reading about different people only to find that we’re not as different as we may tend to think we are would be a topic for another blog post. ;-)

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As an author, I do aim to create main characters of different races. My post on Character Colors.

Take a Look: Indie Christian Fiction Search

Even while a lot of book lovers are fans of indie fiction, it can still be a challenge for indie authors and their books to come out of obscurity–particularly, in this case, when it comes to independent Christian Fiction.

Imagine how pleased this ever-since-she-was-a-preteen ChristFic reader was to find out about the Indie Christian Fiction Search (ICFS) website.

ICFS

I was on the mobile site the first time I visited and then found all the different ways to navigate the site on my computer. (The picture above is a shot of the Home page in Snapshot view.) You can sign up for the ICFS newsletter and also search for books by release date, by keywords, or my personal preference, by genre. There’s a how-to page that gives the details on how to use the site, but the content notes provided with each book are my favorite feature.

As a reader and a book reviewer, I’ve said a number of times that it’d be great if books could come with ratings and content notes like movies do, so a reader can know beforehand what to expect. After all, it’s no fun to run into R-rated material in the middle of a book when you were expecting a PG read, or to find that a book handled a gritty subject in a surface-level G style when you were looking for something deeper. It’s funny, I’m not big on book blurbs (somehow, they just sound corny to me 98% of the time, when I actually do read them), but content notes are quite a help to me, especially considering what reading mood I may be in on a given day.

Here’s an ICFS book page in Classic view.

ICFS Book Page

So, if you’re a fellow ChristFic enthusiast, do head on over to browse the ICFS site to find your next read.

The Crimson Cord: Rahab’s Story by Jill Eileen Smith

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Revell provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.
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The Crimson CordThe Crimson Cord: Rahab’s Story by Jill Eileen Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

“Love is a gift. You can give and receive it, but you cannot repay it.”

In The Crimson Cord, author Jill Eileen Smith tells the story of Rahab, a woman of the ancient city of Jericho well-known for her brave assistance to Israelite spies and for her deference toward the God of the people who would conquer her city.

Smith paints a human picture of the lives of people in a civilization and tribal culture far removed from many of us. Even with this removal, it’s not difficult to understand the shame, fear, resentment, and despair felt by Rahab, who, despite her intelligence, compassionate heart, and beauty, finds herself living with the unbeautiful stigma that accompanies the occupation she’s been pushed into: prostitution. It’s not difficult to see why Rahab would struggle with the concept of God’s mercy, with the thought of the gift of love, and though she lives in a time and place where marriage and childbearing are the chief means for women to “make it” in life, Smith does a wonderful job of showing why Rahab would shy away from remarriage.

While for the most part, Rahab’s conversion of faith and her adoption of Israel’s ways are well-developed, her initial declaration to the Israelite spies about their God comes suddenly for her character; I would’ve liked to see more preceding contemplation that would lead her to such strong, personal belief and confident words. Also, there are parts in the middle of the novel where Rahab’s thoughts and feelings are rehashed as if to stretch out her time in the book while other events in Israel’s history take place. On a similar but perhaps more minor note, though the “but I’m a prostitute” or “but she’s a prostitute” sentiments and arguments may be repeated often to drive the idea home, the redundancy actually lessens the idea’s effectiveness.

Yet, overall, this novel gives quite an illustration of the oftentimes arduous journey to self-acceptance and of the redemptive power of love.

A Thing of Beauty by Lisa Samson

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. BookLook Bloggers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.
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A Thing of BeautyA Thing of Beauty by Lisa Samson

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

I was intrigued by the idea of the story of Fiona Hume, a former child star who once dreamed of living the quiet life of an artist, but instead she’s been stuck in some kind of a rut for years with no art to show for it while her money’s been running out. When she becomes landlady to Josia Yeu, Josia brings a picture of happiness into Fiona’s bleak life space.

However, I’ll not be finishing this book on account of the language in it. While I do read books in which swearing may appear in moderation, depending on the subject matter, it’s not something I expect or much appreciate finding in Christian Fiction. I think it’s a misrepresentation, unfitting for the genre. No, I don’t think stories labeled as “Christian” have to be unrealistically squeaky clean reads, as life itself isn’t squeaky clean, but there are some things I find to simply be in poor taste.

Living in the Pink by Sharon Tubbs

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Moody Publishers for an honest review.
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11078826Living in the Pink by Sharon Tubbs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

The short stories that make up Living in the Pink are loosely but well intertwined glimpses into several different people’s life challenges, most of them being church folks, the thread mainly held together by the rather maternal figure Laura Pinkston: Sister Pinky.

Author Sharon Tubbs hasn’t weaved together a tidy set of happily-ever-afters but thought-provoking vignettes on a number of themes from interracial dating to all manner of family and church dynamics, stories that are realistic and that convey a sense of hope–faint hope, at times, but hope overall. Joy’s tale of returning home and Destiny’s tale of neglected dreams are my favorites, and Sister Pinky’s character rounds out convincingly as the author uncovers both Pinky’s strengths and weaknesses through other characters’ plights as well as her own.

I’d never read a fiction work with this book’s setup before; the reflection questions listed at the end of each chapter made it something like a workbook, and, therefore, I didn’t pause to go over the questions in between, as it’s my preference not to be pulled out of a story before it’s over. Also, the narration throughout the book had a way of slipping from past tense to present tense and back, making the reading a bit awkward at points.

But, again, Living in the Pink is a thought-provoking and ultimately inspiring work that would encourage me to read more from this author in the future.