A group of 1960's teens hang out together.

Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads: Remember church youth group?

A group of 1960's teenagers hang out.
Are they as close knit and carefree as they seem?

Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads novel is also possibly the greatest name for a church youth groups I’ve ever heard. This is a subculture this man knows about. How many of us were a part of one, at least briefly? I remember it as being just as weird as author Franzen describes it, for just as many reasons.

If nothing else, it was one way to get out of the house and with other kids that most people’s parents would allow.

In his latest book, Crossroads, Jonathan Franzen delves into this culture through his exploration of the family of a “youth pastor” as they move through one of these groups and beyond.

As is typical for Franzen’s novels, or at least the ones I have read (The Corrections and Freedom), he delves deeply into the characters of several family members. We start with the father, who is an “usurped youth pastor” (yup), his wife, often characterized as the spiritual brains behind the operation, and three of their four children who are teenagers.

Set in the early ‘70’s, the story also links the ends of the post-World War 2 and post-Vietnam eras in ways that don’t, I think, often get connected. It also addresses issues about mainstream culture (i.e. Caucasian) entitlement with regard to Native American and African American relationships that are a struggle for many of us.

For me, it was an engrossing read. It’s especially good if you enjoy character exploration.

At its core, Franzen’s Crossroads isn’t a story about church as it is a story about a search for meaning. Whether we care about religion or not many of us do struggle with that. How can you be a good person? Should you try? What’s really important: God, family, self? Money?

Can we do better? Should we try?

Cover Photo