Monday, November 25, 2019

Diary of a Teenage Girl

Diary of a Teenage Girl: Caitlin series, Melody Carlson

I have been challenged again recently to reflect how teenagers learn, in fact how we all learn. While logic has a strong place and reason can appeal, by and large what appeals to most of us is a story. A tale we can get caught up in and relate to, and then ponder how we would react in similar circumstances.

This is one of the best arguments for providing our children with Christian fiction. They could spend their lives reading only secular fiction, and that would stretch their minds, but that also would constantly reinforce some world views that we might want to challenge. Christian fiction can be a way to help reset some of the persistent secular narrative and remind youth that there are other people asking the same questions about what it means to live a life of faith today.

In Becoming Me, Caitlin is 16, and it’s the final 6 months of Year 11. She decides to write a diary from January 1 to the end of the school year. She’s living your average (American) teenage life, with a vague commitment to a church and youth group. What she really cares about is being popular and so is excited to be noticed by Jenny, one of the cool girls, and thrilled to get to know some of the boys they are friends with, particularly Josh. She ends up kissing him a lot on a youth group skiiing weekend (even though he has been dating Jenny), and falling completely head over heels for him. When he proceeds to ignore her after the event, she has to ask some hard questions of herself.

She has an unease about her choices, whether she is a kind friend, how shallow everyone is, and whether she is living in a wise way. At the same time, something is going on with her parents as her Dad, who is really strict with her, is spending more and more time away from home and her mother.

She seeks advice from her Aunt Stephy, who has historically had a bit of a wild side, but to her surprise Stephy challenges her and encourages her to reconsider God and her relationship with him, and to come to the church she now attends.

In time, she comes to a real commitment of faith, but it’s still hard to make wise choices. She gets in the car with a driver who has been drinking, and she nearly gets into major trouble with a boy at an unsupervised party. Realising how much danger she was nearly in makes her reassess everything.

The youth grouper leader Clay is a real encouragement and in time Caitlin makes some hard decisions about how she wants to live, as she responds to faithful biblical teaching.

It’s a wild ride of emotion. In five months she becomes a Christian, has to deal with major family problems, a school shooting, and a friend’s teenage pregnancy. She comes to her own personal convictions about dating and premarital sex, and makes a vow to God to abstain from both. While I haven’t read it, it seemed like there was an overlap with I Kissed Dating Goodbye here. (Each book even has a ‘contract’ to abstain until marriage at the end, so Carlson clearly has this as a high priority agenda).

This is a very honest story about teenage girls. It talks about the desire to be included, the desire to love a boy, and the attractions and temptations that such desires bring. Because it’s a diary format, Caitlin can be really honest, as she records her thoughts, reactions, worries and prayers. I found it quite realistic.

Miss 14 loved it and continued with the others in the series which have similar dramatic events. It’s My Life is that summer, which includes a mission trip to Mexico with youth group friends, in which Caitlin is challenged by the poverty she sees. She starts Year 12 and has a friend struggling with anorexia. Who I Am is placed over the final half Year 12 and making major decisions about college. At the same time there are tensions at school over racial differences, and she continues to wonder about friends’ choices relating to boys. She comes to understand her tendency to be judgemental and faces some of her own prejudices.

On My Own is the first year of college at the state university. The biggest issue here is the relationship with a moody and roommate who rebuffs Caitlin’s offers of friendship. At the same time a close male friendship is tending towards a relationship of commitment, but she isn’t sure about the right way forward, navigating conflicting advice from friends and mentors.

There is a fifth book, named I Do (wonder what happens in that!?), but it’s placed a few years later and I haven’t read it yet.

I had not realised how prolific a writer Melody Carlson is until I started to research her. She has written dozens of books for children, teens and women, all with a strong Christian focus. There are another two series of diaries of teenage girls too, and those characters play minor roles in the Caitlin books.

I think they are a good offering for teen girls, they are honest, open and help them think about what it can mean to live in ways that honour God over these years. Of course, it’s very American, and she is clearly pushing a non-dating prior to marriage agenda, but even that’s something for teens to think about. I could be more picky about them theologically, for example there is a strong sense of morality rather than a high sense of grace, and they are more theocentric than Christocentric, but overall I think they encourage readers to godliness and promote values that many parents would encourage. I suspect these are stories that teenage girls of faith will be interested in and that will also make them consider the wisdom of choices they make.

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