“It’s theology. Were you expecting sex, drugs, and rock and roll?”
“One out of the three would be nice.”
Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry
Review by: Ivy
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Michael is an atheist at a strict Catholic school, where he’s forced to go to mass, take theology, and worst of all, wear a plaid tie. Due to his dad’s job, Michael’s family has moved four times in his life, and this time Michael is determined to fit in and make friends at his new school in order to prevent being uprooted again.
What Michael finds is much better than the pious boys and girls he’d thought he’d have to deal with – it’s the chance to make a difference with Heretics Anonymous, a secret club populated by four students who don’t quite fit into the St. Clare’s ideals. There’s Max, who wants to wear his cloak no matter what the dress code says, Avi, who’s Jewish and gay, Eden, who’s the only pagan in her strict Catholic family, and Lucy, who believes in a more liberal version of Catholicism than what her church currently follows.
When feelings get in the way and attempts to stretch the school’s overbearing policies go too far, Michael has an saintly epiphany of his own when he realizes that faith doesn’t always have to be in some god, and love, both platonic and romantic, can come from the most unexpected places.
I can’t believe this was Katie Henry’s debut novel. Her writing style is on point, combining characters, plot, humor, and emotion seamlessly into the rollercoaster of a book that’s Heretics Anonymous. That said, Katie Henry has written young adult plays before, and it gives her book a cinematic/dramatic feel, which makes the reading experience even richer.
While Heretics Anonymous isn’t a very long book, (less than 400 pages), you get a deep sense of all the characters and start to care about them very quickly. The dialogue was super on point, portraying the awkwardness of teenage conversations while still staying humorous and emotional.
The portrayal of religion is respectful while still staying entertaining, Katie Henry’s background in being raised Catholic informing her story. This is not a book about “converting” an atheist, nor is it a book about slamming religion and saying it’s stupid. In fact, Heretics Anonymous validates religious practice in a way that’s very meaningful, which is hard to do without sounding preachy. Michael and Lucy learn stuff and become better people over the course of the book, but neither of them change their beliefs. Even Theresa, the super religious antagonist student, is given some sympathy, which you never see in YA books.
Overall, I really, really loved this book. It was joyful, emotional, funny, and truthful, discussing friendship, romance, religion, and acceptance in a way that’s relatable to anyone. Written in the same vein as Becky Albertalli and Andrew Smith, Heretics Anonymous is a fun, fresh, and faithful read that proves Katie Henry is an author to watch out for.