An interview with Catholic author Theresa Linden about her novels for teens.
By Lori Ann Watson
Theresa Linden writes novels for middle- and high-school students as well as young adults.
- Let’s start with your dystopian series, The Liberty Trilogy. Can you describe the premise of the series for us?
This trilogy takes place in the near future. The world governments have united with a common goal: to save the earth. And while this seems like a worthy goal, their methods of achieving it have destroyed faith, family, and freedom. The government controls everything, from the creation of human life and population numbers to what a person can say and do. Those who rebel are sent to re-education. Unbeknownst to the all-controlling government, an underground movement exists, and a girl named Liberty is about to discover it.
Liberty is not satisfied with this government-controlled life. She wants to choose the direction of her own life. While she has grown up without faith and knows no other way, she listens to this inner “voice” that she’s heard since childhood and she longs for freedom.
- The first book in that trilogy, Chasing Liberty, has a strong female lead character and is based on a very intriguing theme. Can you describe it for us?
There are several themes woven through this story, including: one should not sacrifice faith, family, or freedom for a seemingly better life; freedom is worth fighting for; and it is important to listen to the inner voice of conscience. Faith, family, and freedom are integral to a strong society. The traditional family unit has always been the building block of a stable society. Parents pass on faith and morals, raising children who lead responsible lives and who care about others rather than leading selfish lives, enslaved to their passions.
These themes unfold in the trilogy as Liberty, the female lead character, tries to follow that inner voice, comes to a deeper understanding of true freedom, and begins to fight against the darkness of the culture in which she lives.
- Roland West, Loner is about a fourteen-year-old boy who moves to a new school and finds it difficult to fit in and make friends there. He becomes the victim of bullying and vicious rumors. Can you tell us a little about how you developed the story to help teen readers identify with the main character?
Whether a teen struggles with loneliness and bullying themselves or knows someone who does, many teens face these challenges. I intentionally made Roland’s background, personality, and family situation extreme, so that a teen could identify with one aspect or another. Roland’s mother passed away when he was a child. His only siblings are two older brothers, twins, who are close to each other but not to him. One of the twins has always been jealous of the attention Roland used to receive—as the baby of the family—from his mother, before she passed away. Roland’s father is often away for work, and now Roland must attend a new school. While he would love to have even just one friend, Roland’s shyness stands in the way.
I hope that this story helps readers who struggle with loneliness to realize they are never truly alone. They belong to the family of God, and there is a saint in heaven who can completely identify with their struggles and whom they can turn to in prayer. I also hope this story will help readers who do not experience loneliness to have compassion for those who do, to reach out to the lonely, and to stand up to bullies and gossipers.
- The second book in your West Brothers series, Life-Changing Love, takes a very different angle: the main character is a girl who has a crush on shy Roland and who is required by her parents to adhere to strict courtship rules. Theology of the Body themes are woven throughout the story. What motivated you to write about this theme?
We were made for love, but many today don’t know the true meaning of love. TV shows, movies, and some romance novels often paint a distorted picture of love and portray physical intimacy as the only expression of it. That is not true love. Love is more than a feeling and it certainly is not what Hollywood and today’s culture claim it is. I wrote Life-Changing Love to bring to life the beauty of the Church’s teaching on love. Love is sacrificial in nature and it puts the beloved first. We first learn about this love in the family, from our parents as they sacrifice their time and energy to care for us.
That’s what the Theology of the Body is about: we are loved and we are called to love. I hope that this story conveys these TOB themes: beauty is within and connected to the dignity a person has as a unique creation of God and as an image of God; we are called to communicate the love of God in all our relationships.
I think this book would make a great springboard for discussions about friendship, courtship, and dating. Through the characters, this story shows a teen’s natural longing for relationships with the opposite sex and a parent’s concerns that these relationships are pursued in a godly way.
- You have crafted quite a few other stories for teens, too — if you had to pick two to tell us about, which ones would they be? What would you like to say?
I receive the most fan mail for Battle for His Soul, the third in the West Brothers series. Even reluctant readers enjoy this book. This story shows the power of prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament, and the great mercy of God. I think it is a favorite because many scenes are shown from a guardian angel’s perspective and the spiritual battle comes to life. In addition to showing these battles and the power of prayer from a spiritual perspective, I weave Saint Thomas Aquinas’s teachings on angels and demons into the story. For example, angels cannot be in two places at once, but they can move at the speed of thought. Angels and demons cannot read our minds, but they can guess what we are thinking based on our past, our vital signs, and physical responses. Guardian angels are particularly good at this because they’ve been with us throughout our lives.
The second story I would love to share is Standing Strong, the newest release in the West Brothers series. Every teen can probably relate to the themes of this story: remaining faithful when tempted and vocational discernment. This story follows the West twins, Jarret and Keefe. Jarret has recently converted and wants to stay on the right path, but he’s back with his old friends and the old temptations are strong. Meanwhile, Keefe thinks God might be calling him to the religious life, but he’s hesitant to take the steps needed to find out for sure.
In my research for this story, I contacted the Brothers of Peace in St. Paul, Minnesota, and I modeled the Brothers in my story after them. A Secular Franciscan myself, I thoroughly enjoyed writing the Franciscan theme and bringing to life some of my favorite Franciscan stories, like “Perfect Joy” from the Little Flowers of St. Francis. Not to leave out the Carmelites, this story also touches on the Brown Scapular and the purpose of sacramentals.
I’ve written study/discussion guides for each of my books for use in book clubs, the classroom, or homeschooling families. Questions are designed to help readers analyze the story but also to dig deeper into the themes of the story and the related issues in today’s culture.
- Your writing really gets to the heart of our culture, the trends affecting society, and the nature of teens. For the benefit of teachers and students who might like to try their hands at publication, can you tell us a little about how you arrive at a story idea? Does inspiration hit you out of nowhere, or do you go through an intentional process?
Thank you! That is definitely my aim. I want to bring Catholic truth to the struggles and challenges teens face today through an interesting story with well-developed characters.
Some of my story ideas come from my experiences as a teen, others come from what I see going on in the world around me, and I even get ideas from the homilies I hear at Mass. The story ideas for Standing Strong came from a teaching Sister and one of her students who enjoys my books. Once I’ve found a theme, I brainstorm ways to show this theme play out in a story. For example, if the theme is mercy, I develop a story that shows a character in need of mercy, and the greater the need, the more captivating the story.
Connect with Theresa Linden or learn more at these links:
- Her website, where you can preview her books and download study guides and discussion questions
- The Catholic Teen Books website, where Theresa’s work is featured alongside many other Catholic books that help strengthen teens’ faith
- Her Amazon page, where you can find her books available through Prime and in both paperback and Kindle editions
- Her short story, Bound to Find Freedom, is available in a free Kindle edition so readers can dig into a spinoff from her Chasing Liberty trilogy
Lori Ann Watson is a Teacher of the Year turned stay-at-home mom and blogger who writes from Florida. Her pro-life picture book, Beginnings, was the fruit of reading Pope John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae.
All content copyright © Today’s Catholic Teacher/Bayard.com. All rights reserved. May be reproduced for classroom/parish use with full attribution as long as the content is unaltered from its original form. To request permission to reprint online, email email@example.com.