For regular readers of tween, teen and young adult literature, Nikki Grimes is a household name.
An author of more than 50 books, Grimes has penned prose and poetry for decades, earning a Coretta Scott King Award and the 2006 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry.
Often weaving Christian themes and characters through her work, Grimes latest Zondervan release, A Girl Named Mister, tackles the poignant subject of teen pregnancy from a Christian perspective.
The book tells the story of Mary Rudine, nicknamed Mister, through a series of short poems. Mister is a high school girl with dreams and aspirations like many students her age. Then she meets Trey, a sweet-talking ladies’ man. Although Mister knows from her church upbringing that pre-martial sex is wrong (she wears a purity ring), she gives into temptation and her one encounter with Trey leads to a pregnancy.
Shunned by Trey when he finds out she is pregnant, Mister confronts the shame she feels revealing her secret to her mother and the choices presented by abortion, adoption or teen motherhood.
Also skillfully woven into the narrative of Mister’s story is a side-by-side retelling of Mary and the condemnation and fear she confronted as a young mother carrying Jesus in her womb.
It’s a story, Grimes said in a telephone interview with Everyday Christian, she had kicking around in her head for quite some time.
“I had known for a while that I had wanted to address the theme of teen pregnancy, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to do that,” Grimes said. “What happened is I was having a conversation with a friend and she was talking about collaborating on a book. I remembered wanting to explore the story of Mary focusing on her pregnancy and also a story about a contemporary character dealing with the same issues.”
While the book did not turn out to be a collaborative work after all, it did require careful nuances on Grimes’ part to pair the stories side by side.
“I was confident I could do it, but the Bible isn’t a book you really mess with,” she said. “No matter how well I know a passage, I always go back and research it. It’s not just a simple reading of the Scripture itself, but researching information about the period, everything from clothing to flora and fauna to all the particulars of daily life.
“It’s not of getting just the facts right, but also getting the flavor of the period and bringing it to life in an authentic way.”
She also felt it was important to place Mister in the situation many girls find themselves, left to face their pregnancy with little or no support from the young father.
“It was important for me to show a kind of moving from this really cute guy who seemed really in love with her, and all of that, to who he really was under the surface at the end of the day, because that’s generally the scenario,” she said.
She added that she wants the book to a starting point for a discussion point between either parents or teachers with teens about the risks of pregnancy and the consequences of being sexually active at a young age.
From a Christian standpoint, she is walking on well-traveled and relevant ground.
“I’ve been writing books for decades where God and faith are featured in an important way,” she said. “It’s not an issue in any way for me because I’m a Christian, so Christianity is a way I view and comment on the world. It’s a natural part of who I am and a natural part of who my characters are. It may come into the discussion more or less depending on who is publishing the work, but it’s always going to be a central theme.
“It’s not really a problem with my secular publishers because I don’t make it an issue. I’m not proselytizing, I’m not preaching to anyone. It’s an organic kind of a thing. It just comes out of who the character is.”