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Heretics Anonymous

Review

Heretics Anonymous

Katie Henry is a debut young adult author and published playwright. Her first young adult novel, HERETICS ANONYMOUS, is a laugh-out-loud story of family, friendship, love and accepting others because they are different from you.

Michael is an atheist, so he’s none too thrilled to be attending St. Clare’s, an ultra-strict Catholic high school. That is, until a girl opens her mouth in history class to challenge the teacher. Michael thinks he’s found a kindred spirit in Lucy, only to discover not only is she Catholic...she wants to be a priest. Then Lucy takes him to a meeting of Heretics Anonymous, a secret group for dissenters at St. Clare’s. There, he meets Eden, a pagan, Max, a Unitarian with an unusual fashion sense and Avi, a gay Jew. Together, they get into trouble and cause chaos in their uptight school.

I laughed out loud several times while reading this book. The wit is reminiscent of Becky Albertalli’s SIMON VS. THE HOME SAPIENS’ AGENDA. I think a lot of books in YA as of late have been on the more serious side, so this was a nice reprieve. I like that Henry was able to make light of such a contentious topic without treating it frivolously.

"HERETICS ANONYMOUS is a rare book in the young adult genre, as it tackles religion head-on. Henry is not afraid to ask the tough questions....Henry writes these teens as individuals who are secure in their beliefs..."

Michael is an awesome protagonist. He’s smart, quick and loyal. One thing I really like about him is that he begins the novel as an atheist, and that doesn’t change. Michael isn’t looking for answers; he already has them. But he becomes more receptive to others’ beliefs and is able to accept that their truths differ from his. That’s not to say he isn’t flawed. He’s impulsive and lets his heart rule over his mind a few too many times, but his proclivity to making irrational decisions contributes to his relatability.

Lucy is Michael’s love interest. I love Lucy. She is a total feminist, so naturally she doesn’t fit in at her Catholic school. She reminds me of Hermione because she knows so much about religion and history. I think it's really fascinating how the author chooses to depict someone with belief systems that can clash (feminism and Catholicism). I also like that Lucy refuses to sacrifice one for the other. She holds steadfast to her Catholic beliefs, but she acknowledges the faults of the church she’s so loyal to, and wants to stay in hopes of changing it.

The relationship between Michael and Lucy is so sweet --- perfectly high school --- but also deep. They differ in their faiths so drastically as an atheist and a devout Catholic, and it is so great to see two people talk through their differences and come out stronger because of that, especially in our current climate.

One critique I have is that the three most prominent side characters, Max, Avi and Eden, suffer in terms of development. After the initial meeting, the author does not spend much time cultivating the relationships between Michael and his new friends. I would have preferred some more serious conversations about their beliefs rather than sacrificing those important discussions for the sake of comedy. Though the scenes they are in are ridiculously funny and enjoyable.

I also wish that the author had written more past the ending. I felt as though it was a bit abrupt, and there were still some loose ends.

HERETICS ANONYMOUS is a rare book in the young adult genre, as it tackles religion head-on. Henry is not afraid to ask the tough questions. This is the first time I have ever read a book where the main character is an atheist and it’s an integral part of the story. I like that Henry writes these teens as individuals who are secure in their beliefs; I think, a lot of times, parents don’t give their kids enough credit. Something is “just a phase,” or “they’ll grow out of it,” but a lot times that simply isn’t the case. These characters don’t change in their own beliefs, they only come to accept others’. And the book doesn’t show preference to any belief system. I like that.

I would not recommend this book to anyone who cannot laugh at the more ridiculous aspects of religion. Though the book is, overall, respectful of all religions, it does poke fun for the sake of social commentary, which is important in its own right. I would, however, recommend Henry’s debut to anyone who has ever felt like they don’t belong, anyone who has doubted what they’ve been told to believe, and to anyone who is up for a hilarious, cute and thought provoking story.

Reviewed by Cat Barra on August 14, 2018

Heretics Anonymous
by Katie Henry