Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Book Love: Christy Miller & Forever Friends

I'd be hard pressed to find another book/series/massive book series that have had the influence on my life than the connected series of Christy Miller and her Forever Friends (yes, capitalized).

These are Christian books written for teen girls, first started in the late 1980s, when I was most definitely not a teenager (although I was alive for most of that decade).  I came across them while reading my sister's Brio magazines in the mid-90s (which I am delighted to see still exists).  We had been reading the magazine for a few years and they had been talking about these books just as long but I don't know why we never picked them up.  At the time it was still on the first series. 

I finally started with Only You, Sierra, which was the first book in a second, spin-off series.  That book was published June 22, 1995 and I think I read it pretty soon after.  I was instantly hooked on Sierra and her life with 5 siblings in Portland, Oregon.  She was a high school girl with high school girl problems and while I was only in middle school, I could relate.  She seemed so real.  Since the next book wouldn't be published for awhile, I started on the 12 book Christy Miller series which had been published between 1989 and 1994.

Those books came as close as any book to actually changing my life.

While I was raised (and still am) Catholic and Christy and her friends were non-denominational Christians, they had such a HUGE influence on my faith life.  They were very open about their faith journey and had high purity standards.  They talked often about God and His influence on their lives and quoted a lot of Bible verses.  I didn't know anyone quite like them in real life.  I never did the youth group thing but would it be a stretch to say these characters were like my fictional youth group?  Even now, some 20 years later, I still feel closer to God and more inspired in my own faith journey when I read these books.  For the most part, their faith is a huge and comfortable part of their lives.

Christy has a love interest for the entire series, Todd, and their relationship and discussions on purity and all their ups and downs were hugely influential on my teen years, even if I didn't have a boyfriend until the one who became my husband (that might be why I didn't have a boyfriend, no regrets!).  Christy's best friend was Katie (a spunky redhead) and they went through a few rough patches but were mostly super close and the kind of friend you hope you get through your formative teen years (and the rest of life). 

I immediately got some of my sisters and a friend hooked on the series as well.  I don't have super strong memories of reading the rest of the Sierra series as I do that first book but I know I read them all pretty eagerly.  That series finished in 1999, while I was in high school.  While I liked Sierra, at the time I didn't connect with her like I did with Christy.  I liked the Sierra books most when Christy and friends would pop up from time to time.

Then in 2000 a new series started.  Christy & Todd: The College Years.  I didn't have to look up that year.  My parents giving it to me for my 17th birthday while we were vacationing on the Outer Banks.  I read it super quick and passed it onto my sisters.  The 3rd, and final, book in the college series, I Promise,  came out the next summer, 2001 and my sister and I got the Christian bookstore to specially order it for us.  When the books came in I stayed up and read it straight through, even though my sister and I were having a slumber party (I waited until everyone else was asleep and read most of it in the bathroom, one of two times I've read a book in one sitting.)

I don't know that I expected my college experience to be like Christy, Todd, and Katie's but maybe?  Even if I didn't have the wealthy aunt that paid for me to visit Europe multiple times or redo my whole wardrobe every few years.  My college year books moved to college with me and have been read so many times, as their falling apart covers can attest to.

Then Katie got her own series starting in 2008 (that was a long wait!).  I was married by that point so the whole dating story line wasn't particularly applicable to me anymore but I still loved reading more about these fictional people who seemed very real and almost like friends.

Then came Christy & Todd: The Married Years which were published in 2014 and 2015 (back to reading books in one day).  And Christy & Todd: The Baby Years (the first of which just came out last fall: see here and here).

There are also 3 spin-off/stand-alone books.

For anyone keeping track, to read the whole saga that would be:
Christy Miller: 12 books
Sierra Jensen: 12 books
College Years: 3 books
Kate Weldon: 4 books
Married Years: 3 books
Baby Years:     1 book (with two more later this year)

That'll be 40 books across 6 series once they last two baby books come out.  I own all 38 released ones.

When Matt and I went to Hawaii in 2007, I'm pretty sure he got tired of me talking about all the things we were doing that Christy and Todd did when they visited with her family in the books.  The big one was seeing THE bridge and driving the Road to Hana.  But also eating "Naughty Hula Pie" and snorkeling around the Black Rock in Ka'anapali. 

I don't think that was the intended influence of these books but they really did impact what we saw and did on Maui!

I've gotten to meet the author, Robin Jones Gunn, twice, the only non-children's author I've ever met.  When I was in line the first time (after spending all day painting the outside of our house, I still had paint in my hair), the bookstore owner was coming around to put stickers on the books people brought, so they knew what not to charge them for.  I laughed when they got to me because my book, Until Tomorrow (the first of the College Years series) was so beat-up that it clearly didn't come straight off the shelves.

The second time, less than a year later, my sister went with me and that time I brought two books with me.  When talking with her, it came up that I owned all the books and she said to bring them all next time and she'd sign the whole box of them.  She hasn't been back to town, to the best of my knowledge, since so that hasn't happened.  Yet.

These are pretty much the only books I'll buy without reading them and at $19 each at that (since I buy through her online store and not Amazon with Prime shipping).  I'll read every book she ever writes about Christy, Katie, Todd, and the gang, even if it gets to The Nursing Home Years.  Sure there are some dated references from the 80s and 90s and sometimes I get frustrated by their choices (complaining about money but then constantly eating out and having cable tv...) but that might make them seem more real.  They are fictional characters that feel like friends, having "shared" over 20 years of my life with them, that's longer than most of my real-life friends!  They continue to inspire and challenge me to be better about my faith.  They impact what sort of lessons I want to teach our kids as they grow up.

I haven't reread all the books in 6 years but plan to start soon.  I know it'll be like coming back to friends, one who, even though I know their stories, I'm sure going to enjoy spending time with again.  And again.  And again.

Thank you, Robin Jones Gunn, for the huge and lasting influence you've had on my life through these characters.  Truly a "God Thing" that they have been in my life.

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