My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Published: August 7th, 2018
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Recommended Age: 12+
Genres & Themes: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, High School, Religion, Friendship, Family Relationships, Romance
Michael is an atheist. So as he walks through the doors at St. Clare’s—a strict Catholic school—sporting a plaid tie, things can’t get much worse. His dad has just made the family move again, and Michael needs a friend. When a girl challenges their teacher in class, Michael thinks he might have found one, and a fellow nonbeliever at that. Only this girl, Lucy, is not just Catholic . . . she wants to be a priest. But Lucy introduces Michael to other St. Clare’s outcasts, and he officially joins Heretics Anonymous, where he can be an atheist, Lucy can be an outspoken feminist, Avi can be Jewish and gay, Max can wear whatever he wants, and Eden can practice paganism. After an incident in theology class, Michael encourages the Heretics to go from secret society to rebels intent on exposing the school’s hypocrisies. When Michael takes one mission too far—putting the other Heretics at risk—he must decide whether to fight for his own freedom, or rely on faith, whatever that means, in God, his friends, or himself.
One of my favourite things is reading about experiences I’m not familiar with so I can participate in them vicariously through the characters.
For example, I never attended a Catholic private school. And even if my middle school had a ‘‘Religion’’ class, I was placed in the ‘‘Moral’’ one with the other students who weren’t Catholic. I liked it. We talked about what it means to have morals and be a decent human being.
But Michael is now attending such a school, because his father uprooted their family to a new city for his job and enrolled him at a prestigious school that happens to be thoroughly Catholic. I say ‘‘thoroughly Catholic’’ because St. Clare’s has a ‘‘Father’’ as principal and ‘‘Sisters’’ as teachers.
And guess what? Michael is atheist. His classmates are… not. They pray in class and go to mess and discuss saints and such. Things that Michael is not interesting in. Not at all. However, the moment he thinks he will never fit in and make friends, he meets a group of people who call themselves the ‘‘Heretics Anonymous’’ and bonds with them like he never did with anyone else.
This story reminded me of the book Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu. While Moxie and Heretics Anonymous focus on different topics, they both feature a high school whose rules are questionable and strict and whose student body deserves to know the hypocrisy of the institution that is supposed to educate the future leaders of the world.
So the goal of the Heretics Anonymous is to push students to think critically about issues quickly covered up by authority figures, the different regulations enforced that students are expected to follow blindly as well as the wrong information given by the school, especially when it comes to sex education. FYI, that specific part is hilarious.
It seems like such a serious story with heavy themes and a cast of characters that wish to revolutionize the way their school functions in general. All of that is true and the characters’ intentions certainly are noble, but they also make mistakes before realizing that nothing is either black or white; there are shades of gray everywhere, and although we all want to be right and for our opinion to be the one that matters most, we have to consider other people when we plan to change how things work in a community, and a school is a community of a sort.
Surprisingly, their mistakes are very entertaining and the ideas they come up with to influence the student body to think differently quite interesting, though not particularly original since some are similar to those featured in Moxie.
I found myself smiling while reading about the friendship dynamics between Michael and his crew, the Heretics Anonymous, seeing that they discuss not only the school and Catholicism, but also their own particular beliefs that shape who they are as a person. Lucy especially is a wise, if not a little stubborn, young woman who’s not going to try to convert you, but will show you how important it is to believe in something, anything, and not necessarily God. It can be love. It can be friendship. It can be family.
In sum, this is light-hearted enough to make you smile and laugh during certain parts, but undeniably realistic, meaning that other scenes will hit you hard with their raw emotions. I would have given it more, and certainly wanted to, but except for dear Lucy, we as readers are not particularly connected to the Heretics Anonymous members. We get a sense of their personalities and what matters to them most, but they seemed to exist for the purpose of this group alone, whereas Lucy is still Lucy whether she’s part of the group or not, and because she becomes very important to Michael. Still, quite enjoyable.
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