These are the kinds of characters and antics I find in the Diary of a Teenage Girl series by Melody Carlson. This is not simply the Christian version of the Sweet Valley High series with its drama and quest for popularity, but these are honest stories of real people who wrestle with everyday things like car privileges, school bullies, body image, and boys.
These are girls who struggle to interpret how life as a believer fits into the mine field that is high school. How do you respond when your friends drink alcohol at the fall Harvest Dance? When you find yourself caught in the middle of two friends who like the same boy? When you say things that hurt other people?
These gals question, they fail, but they seek God for answers, and they figure out what to do.
Take Chloe, for instance. Chloe is morose and alternative. She dresses darkly and sports body piercings. She is artistic, writes lyrics and music, and hopes to one day start a band. At school she is a loner, and is bullied by other girls because she is different.
Chloe wrestles with her relationship with her parents, whom she sees as distant and disconnected from her, and she wrestles with what she believes spiritually. One friend is a Christian; another studies Wicca. Chloe thoughtfully weighs the options.
I am particularly impressed that Carlson even addresses gospel and culture issues within the teenage world. For instance, Chloe feels constant pressure from her parents and certain friends to change the way she dresses once she becomes a Christian, yet she feels convicted to remain true to who she is. One friend criticizes her song lyrics for not being enough about God because they don’t say “one single word about God” in them.
“God is too in them!” Chloe insists. “God is all over them, inside and out, and between the lines and – well – everywhere!”
Because these stories are written in diary form they move quickly and contain lots of drama. But Carlson does not disrespect the teenage girl:
she gives each character thoughtfulness, and conviction, and the ability to reason through challenging circumstances.
This is what impacted me the most about Carlson’s books, seeing these teenage girls think critically about the issues that everyday life puts before them. Another Diary character, Kim, studies Buddhism before accepting Christ, and grasps the basic tenants enough to know it doesn’t seem to make sense. Chloe is confronted by a pastor who imposes legalistic doctrine on her, and she is able to wade through scripture and prayer and determine the pastor is following man’s law, not God’s. I was not this way as a young girl, but followed the coolest thing and believed what others believed.
For this reason, the Diary of a Teenage Girl books are well worth reading for both teens and adults. Teens will find compelling stories about girls just like them, and will not be frustrated by a watered down plot line because Carlson does not shy away from controversial issues. Adults will appreciate the insight into the teenage world and find tools for teaching the girls in their lives how to navigate through life as a Christian.
Just yesterday my mom picked up the first Caitlin book, opened it to the middle, and began reading. Two hours later she chuckled at how she was unable to put the book down. She described what had her captivated: “This girl’s father was unfaithful to her mother, and now he wants to move back home again to make amends.” My mom was impressed that Carlson holds no punches – these are the everyday realities of most teenagers today.
Learn more about these books at the Diary website. I already have a list of girls who are getting these for Christmas.