By Christa A. Banister, special to Backseat Writer Growing up in a no-stoplight town in western Wisconsin, sometimes the best adventures happened in whatever book I was reading at the time.
After all, my hometown of Ladysmith didn’t have the whole quaint small town thing going like Stars Hollow, the quirky fictional home of “Gilmore Girls,” one of my all-time favorite T.V. series. Not only were there no mother-daughter combos who spoke fluent pop culture, but there wasn’t even a dreamy, endearingly grumpy diner guy who put up a good fight whenever you wanted yet another shot of espresso.
For the record, the best coffee in Ladysmith was the java you brewed at home with your own beans. Your other option? A vanilla cappuccino from the local Qwik Trip, a sickly sweet substance that in no way resembled an actual cup of joe. And as you probably guessed, the gas station also had a criminal shortage of cute baristas. Sigh.
With no good coffee and little to do, I lived vicariously through the characters in novel after novel—Elizabeth Bennett walking through miles and miles of rolling hills in Pride & Prejudice, the pre-Lost adventures of British boys struggling for survival on a mysterious island in Lord of the Flies and Fudge Hatcher making his older brother Peter’s life rather precarious (and that’s putting it mildly) in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Superfudge.
But as I continued to grow in the newfound faith, my 12-year-old self began wondering if there were actually any books that reflected my Christian worldview. You know, something beyond My Utmost for His Highest–a fine devotional, but not exactly what I was hoping for in terms of pure storytelling bliss.
Truth be told, I was pretty happy with the stories I was reading already, but I still couldn’t help but wonder from time to time—what if darling Elizabeth Bennett had a relationship with God, too? And how would that influence how she lived?
Then after a visit to a friend’s house came a revelation! Apparently, there was an entire genre of literature written by Christians, and my friend was willing to let me borrow as many books as I wanted. So happy to hear that the very thing I dreamed of actually existed, I grabbed a stack of paperbacks without giving it much thought.
Later that evening, after carefully arranging and re-arranging my covers and adjusting the lighting (a pre-reading ritual to make sure the mood was just right), I excitedly dug in. Curious about what this reading adventure would entail, I could hardly turn the pages fast enough to get to the beginning, and then it happened before I even made it to chapter 3.
For whatever reason, these prairie women protagonists were about as thrilling as a piece of tilapia with no seasoning for dinner. I couldn’t relate to them on any level, and I wasn’t interested in figuring out how. Ok, so one bad book, let’s see what’s next in the pile…
Yep, you guessed it, more prairie women in hoop skirts. More sand. More deserts. More covered wagons. More boredom.
The rest of the books were more of the same–something my friend warned me about after I complained about the lack of variety. Given my lackluster introduction to the genre, I was determined I’d right that wrong in the future and create a story of faith that readers like me would enjoy.
In the meantime, I returned to my old novel standbys and forgot all about Christian fiction. Until my senior year of high school, that is. My mom was meeting a friend of hers who owned a small Christian bookstore, so I decided to go along for kicks. And lo and behold, there was a novel there I thought I’d really like—the first book in the “Christy Miller” series, Summer Promise by Robin Jones Gunn.
Now here was a protagonist I could relate to—and she was even from Wisconsin! Needless to say, my opinion of Christian fiction changed in with the first ten words of this book. And thanks to many, many girls feeling the same way about Christy, Todd, Doug and even ol’ Aunt Marti, Gunn kept the series going for a while, much to my delight.
These days, the world of Christian fiction is night and day different from the prairie girl novels of old, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be part of the fun with my own novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. However, from time to time at book signings, online and the like, I still encounter people who don’t think much of the genre. That not only makes it a challenge to get people reading, but doesn’t say much about Christians as artists, now does it?
Trust me, I get it. Some of these characters are still so heavenly minded, they’re no earthly good. Yes, there are still a few too many pat answers to actual real-life struggles. Worse yet is when Christian fiction has simply been reduced to the “safe-for-the-whole-family” alternative (and really, when is taking up your cross and following God supposed to be safe?) to something’s that already popular (cue the Christian version of Twilight or “Sex and the City”…usually five years too late).
But if we continue (as readers and writers) to champion quality faith-filled art, I’m convinced that even more will be crafted. And that way, no small-town girl with an insatiable love of reading will ever have to escape to the prairie again—that is, unless she wants to.
About Christa Banister:: When it comes to writers, Christa Banister is top-notch. Author of the popular Sydney Alexander chick lit series (Around the World in 80 Dates, Blessed are the Meddlers, and the yet-to-be released third novel), Christa is also a freelance journalist and an avid blogger.