Thursday, August 30, 2018

Book Review: "Heretics Anonymous" by Katie Henry

Michael has tried to stay positive. But after his family moves for the fourth time in 10 years—and a month and a half into his junior year of high school, no less—he's starting to lose himself. Especially this time, when his parents have enrolled him at St. Clare's, a prestigious Catholic prep school. Because Michael, you see, is an atheist.

"I didn't lose my faith or anything. I never had it in the first place. I never believed in any kind of God, just like I never believed in werewolves, or ghosts, or that mixing Pop Rocks and soda would make your stomach explode."

Angry at his father for uprooting the family once again and then never being home on top of it all, Michael is still determined to find a friend, just so school doesn't totally suck. In his history class, he witnesses a fellow student exasperating the nun who is their teacher, and he thinks he may have found a fellow atheist. Instead, he discovers that Lucy is a Catholic and wants to be a priest, but she isn't satisfied with the Church's attitude toward, or treatment of, women, among other things.

Outcasts in their own way, Lucy and Michael become friends, and she introduces him to the school's other "fringe" students: Avi, who is Jewish—and gay; Max, who wants to wear a cloak even though it clashes with St. Clare's dress code; and Eden, who is a Celtic Reconstructionist Polytheist (she believes in multiple gods). Together, they are Heretics Anonymous, a secret society which exists mostly to give them an outlet to be free to be whomever they want to be.

As Michael's friendship with his fellow Heretics grows (as do his feelings for Lucy), the group starts to wonder whether it can serve a greater purpose and effect change within the school. But what starts as a set of humorous pranks aimed at highlighting the inconsistencies in some of the school rules (not to mention its treatment of sex), begins to take on a life of its own when something happens to a beloved teacher. Suddenly Michael wants the group to call attention to the school's true hypocrisies, but he doesn't realize just how much he's putting at risk, including his friends.

"The only thing more dangerous than someone who doesn't care about the rules is someone who does—and wants to break them anyway."

When you've finally found a community in which you belong, is that enough to satisfy you? Is it our responsibility to point out to others the hypocrisies that surround them, even if they may not be interested? When you don't believe in something, do you need to pretend you do just to make others happy? In Heretics Anonymous, Katie Henry attempts to answer those questions against the backdrop of familial angst and the heated emotions of high school relationships.

I really enjoyed this book. Henry hooked me from the beginning, and while she did paint some of the school's rules and administration as hypocrites, she didn't make them caricatures, and showed a different side of Catholicism through Lucy's character. While not every character is as fleshed out as I would have liked—I feel that there were some great stories to be told by delving deeper into Avi, Max, and Eden's characters—Lucy and Michael are flawed but utterly fantastic.

While this book is about religion in a small way, it's more about friendship and belonging and trust, about the hopes we hold on to long after we should lay them to rest, and the hurt that we feel when we realize people don't keep their promises. This is a sweet, funny, thought-provoking story, and I wouldn't have minded spending more time with these characters. I'll definitely keep an eye out for what Henry comes up with next!!

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