My Review of The Deceived and a Guide for Teens and Parents
This weekend, I read a novel that might rub some parents the wrong way. Why? It was written for teens, from the perspective of a Christian teen who ends up getting tangled up in drugs and alcohol. And it doesn’t immediately resolve with confession and repentance, either. There’s a lot of mature content in this book. Drugs, alcohol, sexual references (nothing explicit). Cuss words don’t show up on the printed page, but the protagonist cusses frequently. And this is a “good” Christian kid who grew up in a Christian home, goes to church and youth group. But even if makes you cringe, here’s why your teen might need to read this book.
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#1 Our World is Messy, so we Need Messy Conversations
It really is. Ever wonder why the Bible is so messy? (Want a book chock full of mature content? Read the Bible! Is the Bible too mature for your teen?) Good fiction reflects how messy the world is, and how God enters into that mess…even though it isn’t always the way we would want it to happen, and it isn’t always neatly resolved with a cute little bow.
No matter how sheltered your kiddo is, eventually he or she is going to run into “mature content.” It’s in the Bible! It’s on TV, in the movies, and on the street. We don’t want to introduce too much, too soon, but if we don’t give teens ways to talk through this stuff, when they hit the adult world and have no limits, they won’t be able to follow through on living for God in our messy world. God entered into our messy world, yet remained pure. He calls us to do the same thing, but we can’t do it if we ignore the mess. Kids are going to hear it. But we can choose who they hear it from, and introduce them to the world with a guardrail, with books that are engaging and also show the real consequences of these messy life decisions.
#2 Fairy Tale Christianity Isn’t the Real Deal
Sometimes, the church doesn’t give youth a safe space to process the questions and challenges to their faith. We teach Sunday school stories that resolve neatly, not the real messy lives throughout Scripture. What do you do when your Christian parents come across as hypocrites? When you’re pressured to “be a part of the team” that parties every weekend? When it feels like God hates you or has abandoned you? When your atheist friend does something more Christlike than the people at your church? When you feel like you don’t belong? Sometimes, our teens are made to feel like they will get in trouble for asking the questions. Good books can give teens a place to process through all this stuff…that they might not talk to Mom or Dad about.
#3 Christian Teens Might Need to Pick up a Little Grace
It’s really easy for Christian teens who have been raised in the church to be judgmental towards girls that get pregnant as teens, kids who drink or smoke or cheat in school. Sometimes, they don’t even mean to…they just don’t understand how or why someone would make that choice, and that judgmental attitude actually gets in the way of reaching these kids that are rougher around the edges. When we read books with mature content that deal with these issues, we learn to love the characters and then to love the folks in our lives going through the same things. We pick up a little grace and a little love.
Guidelines for Teens Reading Books with Mature Content
- What’s the perspective? When dealing with mature content, try to find really well-written books by Christian authors. What we read shapes our thinking, so if you can find something by an author that shares your worldview, that’s a good place to start. That’s not to say it isn’t valuable to read something by non-Christian authors, though. But you’ll need to have your guard up. If you find “drugs, sex, and rock-and-roll” in a story, it shouldn’t be glorified. Well, maybe the rock-and-roll. 🙂 The story should be entertaining, and it can be entertaining and have mature content at the same time, but keep your radar up for stories where the mature content is the entertainment.
- Parents, know your kid. It’s not just about age, it’s about maturity. One 11-year-old may have a completely different life experience than another. Same for a 16-year-old. The right level of mature content will be different for each kid and for each family. But the idea is to have a safe space to process those things, and not just learn about “mature content” from the world.
- If you think it is a maturity stretch, read it together. This can be a lot of fun anyways, but when parents and kids enjoy good fiction together that also deals with these tough issues, it opens doors for conversations about the controversial or mature content. Don’t want to read it with mom or dad? Do a book club with your youth group or Christian club at school.
Would I Recommend The Deceived for Teens?
Yes, I would recommend this book. As noted above, it does have some mature content. Also, it doesn’t resolve in this book…we’ll have to get to the next one. I think that’s actually a good thing, because cookie-cutter Christianity that always ties up in a bow isn’t the real deal. I’m looking forward to the next book (even though the writer did leave me hanging).
There were a few things that weren’t my favorite. First person, present tense is one of them…but I know this POV is popular with teens and some authors, like Suzanne Collins in The Hunger Games, do it really well. Also, there were a few moments where I wondered if we successfully got into the head of a teenage boy. He’s writing a screenplay and uses the word “capris,” and I don’t know if my 15-year-old brother even knows what that word means. Lol.
Would I recommend The Deceived for adults?
I’m not a teen anymore. Haven’t been for some time, although I’ve spent a lot of time with them. I don’t smoke or drink or do drugs or party – never did. Wasn’t my thing. But this book really tugged on my heart. Because I have my own ways of escaping. My own ways of drowning out discouragement and depression and stress. I can go months without turning my TV on, and then when I’m really stressed out, sink into binge-watching McCleod’s Daughters on Prime. I found myself reflecting on the unhealthy ways I’ve been dealing with life lately. Sometimes, we’re not running from Jesus, but we’re not really turning to him much either, right?
This book broke my heart for teens around me struggling under the pressures of life, but it also forced me to do a little self-examination. Good (if not always fun) stuff. And I think that’s one of my favorite things about books: they give us a place to process life.
The Deceived is on Tour with Celebrate Lit
About the Book
Book: The Deceived
Author: Kelly Harrel
Genre: Christian Contemporary/ young adult
Release Date: January, 2019
My dream is to be a screenplay writer. When my characters come alive, so do I. Writing is like air to me; take that away and I’ll suffocate.
My dad’s dream is for me to play professional baseball. I hate baseball, but I’m really good at it. And if I play the game right, I can use it to get a full-ride scholarship to my dream film school. That’s the plan, anyway. As long as I don’t mess up.
But the other thing I’m really good at? Messing up. Don’t believe me? The girl who likes me is an atheist. I have to out drink my teammates at parties so they know to take me seriously. I’m pretty sure I’m addicted to pain pills. I made an absolute fool of myself during the most important game of the year.
Obviously, God hates me. Why else would He stick me with an overbearing father who’s only happy if I’m the best of the best—on the field and off? Why else would He take away my one chance to live my dream?
Hi, my name’s Danny Morton. Welcome to my messed up life and the start of how God saved me.
About the Author
Kelly Harrel is the author of the Lauren Drake series and its spinoff, the Once Lost series. Convertible rides to the beach with the love of her life, Jeff, are her favorite. She also loves hanging out with her son and daughter, and she adores peppermint mochas. Kelly strives to usher others into a deeper relationship with Christ through her speaking and writing. To learn more about Kelly or to book a speaking engagement, visit www.kellyharrel.com.
More from Kelly
I fell in love with Danny Morton when I first heard his voice at two am. His biting remarks made me laugh and cringe at the same time. They also made me jump up to take notes. Maybe because once upon a time I was a sarcastic teen who lived too much in my own mind. Or maybe because I had a lot of questions about God at his age too. Like Danny, I yearned for a close relationship with God even though I felt surrounded by hypocrites.
Yes, I fell in love with Danny from the very beginning.
It was impossible not to. His passion is inspiring. Even as young as he is, he has a dream he’s determined to pursue. All he wants is to write, which is also something I can understand.
As soon as I began writing his story, I knew there were a lot of deeper issue to deal with. Being the mother of two teens, I’ve seen firsthand how independent they can be. They have their own ideas, personalities, and desires. Two questions came to mind. Why do teens raised in the church fall into drugs and alcohol and fall away from the Lord? Is there a way to prevent it? Finding no simple answers, I cried out to the Lord to help me understand. I asked Him to give me Danny’s story to teach and inspire others. That’s when not only Danny but his entire family came alive to me.
I thought the most disturbing thing about The Deceived might be Danny’s drugs and alcohol abuse. Yet with each revision of the book, something else became more disturbing—the way his family treated him. This novel became a personal reminder that lukewarm Christianity can destroy those we love the most.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”This novel became a personal reminder that lukewarm Christianity can destroy those we love the most. – The Deceived by Kelly Harrel (aff link: https://amzn.to/2HgY57w)” quote=”This novel became a personal reminder that lukewarm Christianity can destroy those we love the most.”]
I pray this young adult novel will be picked up by all generations.
Parents should examine their own relationship with the Lord, how they treat their teens, and the pressures their teens face every day. My prayer is that teens will find a friend in Danny as well as the determination to recognize and stand against the temptations they face.
One of my favorite scenes in The Deceived is when Danny goes to a party the day after Thanksgiving. Not being a very social guy, he comes up with a hilarious way to identify people. You might need to search different types of trees while you read the scene but you will laugh out loud. While Danny has a lot of great one-liners, the conversations I enjoyed writing the most were those between him and his sister, Lydia. I was blessed with a great relationship with my older brother in our teen years, and those conversations remind me of our late-night talks.
The Deceived will make you laugh, cry, and consider family dynamics and your faith in a new way. And when you get to the last page, remember, there’s more to come.
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