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Book Review: Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

Publisher’s description

hereticsPut an atheist in a strict Catholic school? Expect comedy, chaos, and an Inquisition. The Breakfast Club meets Saved! in debut author Katie Henry’s hilarious novel about a band of misfits who set out to challenge their school, one nun at a time. Perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Robyn Schneider.

When Michael walks through the doors of Catholic school, 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 atheist at that. Only this girl, Lucy, isn’t just Catholic . . . she wants to be a priest.

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.

Michael encourages the Heretics to go from secret society to rebels intent on exposing the school’s hypocrisies one stunt at a time. But 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.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Well, this book was right up my alley. As an atheist, I am always looking for more atheist rep in YA. I picked this book up because the summary sounded super interesting, and also because I TOTALLY judge books by their covers and this cover is amazing. Add in the fact that this book is thoughtful, compassionate, funny, and filled with great characters, and the result was I read this book in one sitting.

 

Michael has moved four times in ten years. He’s starting his new school, a private Catholic school, a month and a half into his junior year. He’s never believed in any god, but his father’s boss got him into St. Clare’s, the best private school in the area. He figures it will be terrible—after all, he’s an atheist—but is quickly proven wrong when he meets Lucy and her friends, an eclectic group of kids who all have their own reasons for not quite fitting in at school. Outspoken Colombian American feminist Lucy, whom Michael initially mistakes as a fellow atheist, wants to be a priest and has many thoughts on how and why the church should grow and change. Avi is Jewish and gay. Korean American Max is a Unitarian who just wants to be able to wear a cape to school. Eden is a Wiccan—well, actually, she’s a Celtic Reconstructionist Polytheist. Even though Michael is an apostate, and not technically a heretic, he’s invited into their group, Heretics Anonymous, which is basically a support group serving as a place to air their grievances about school. It doesn’t take Michael long to feel the group should do something more, go public, figure out how they can make things better for everyone at school. They “fix” the sex ed video, challenge the dress code, and begin to leave their mark (literally) all over the school. But shaking things up and starting dialogues has consequences, and soon security cameras are popping up and innocent classmates are getting accused of these pranks. Things spiral out of control, causing HA to go on hiatus, but when Michael’s personal life becomes stressful, he pushes things at school too far and stands to lose all that good that has come out of landing in this most ill-fitting place.

 

I enjoyed that Michael and his friends all came from different backgrounds but worked to understand each other, even as they made mistakes and disagreed over big ideas. This isn’t some story where Michael sees the error of his ways and finds religion, but he does start to understand that God and faith is maybe far more complicated than he had previously thought. Michael may not believe in any god, but he does believe in plenty of other things that are meaningful. At its heart, this is a story about friendship, respect, beliefs, acceptance, and differences, but it’s also a very amusing look at a subversive secret society determined to bring about change and expose hypocrisy. Excellent dialogue and genuine character growth make this layered look at religion sparkle. A great recommendation for those who like their deep subjects peppered with humor. I look forward to more from this author. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062698872
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/07/2018

#FSYALit Book Review (and more): What If I’m an Atheist?

 

What If I’m an Atheist?: A Teen’s Guide to Exploring Life Without Religion by David Seidman

REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF EDELWEISS

ISBN-13: 9781582704074

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication date: 3/10/2015

 

REVIEW: 

When I saw this title pop up on Edelweiss, asking for it was a no-brainer. As an atheist currently writing a novel that centers around an atheist main character, as a person who spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about atheism (and religion) when I was a teenager, I wanted to check it out.

 

This book is packed with a lot of information. It tackles “this sometimes-secret world” of atheists. The author often uses the term “unbelievers” and briefly looks at agnostics, freethinkers, rationalists, humanists, objectivists, materialists, and naturalists in addition to atheists. Much of the book is coming from the angle of “how to survive being an atheist in a world that hates or fears atheists.” Siedman considers many intriguing questions, like if atheism is a religion (do atheists have a messiah, prophets, a bible, and so on). He asks if we need God to live a moral life (and notes that 1/3 of Americans associate atheists “with illegality, such as drug use and prostitution”). He examines why one might become an atheist, how to handle talking about atheism, and why a person might leave atheism behind. Seidman talks about people being threatened by atheists. He focuses a lot on the negative comments or ideas atheists can expect to encounter. Seidman notes that 15-20% of all adult Americans have no religion (so 36 million plus people), but self-declared atheists only make up less than 3% of the American population.

 

Seidman sprinkles quotes liberally throughout his book, with most of the quotes coming from websites and blogs. Many of the people he quotes from are teenagers sharing their experiences as atheists. To an extent, the quotes are useful in sharing the views of actual teens and representing many different experiences, but they also severely bog down the book, making it feel less like an examination and analysis of atheism and more (at times and more so in certain sections) like just a collection of quotes.

 

Lists are included, like 7 celebrity unbelievers, the 10 most atheistic states and countries, 5 historical figures described as atheists, the 10 atheist commandments, and more. He looks at atheist-friendly religions and the parts of religions that unbelievers might take on (being spiritual, ocassionally attending church, celebrating religious holidays, and so on). He asks if you can be a Christian atheist, an atheist Jew, a Unitarian, a Buddhist… even Pastafarianism gets a shout-out. He also discusses some atheist churches that exist.

 

Part two of the book looks at life as an atheist and acknowledges how hard it might be as a teen to transition from a belief he or she was raised in to an atheist. He examines the reasons a teen might consider and choose atheism. There is also a brief discussion of those who never had a belief, who were raised without religion. Only 17% of those who identify as godless have nontheistic parents. The book also covers what reactions one might get when they share that they are an atheist—confusion, hostility, attempts at understanding, a desire to “save” you, and more. A section about knowing your rights regarding religion in schools looks at prayer, evolution/creationism teachings, clubs, and religion in classes. Positive experiences and reactions are included in this book, but for the most part it looks at the many negative things that may occur if you decide to become an atheist and share that decision with others.

 

Part three addresses comments atheists often get (they’re too young to decide, they’re just rebelling, they’re immoral, and so on) and what possible responses are. Additionally, a section looks at what if a person is an atheist and wants to become religious. Seidman offers tips for how to tell your parents and others you are an atheist and how to handle possible hostility. He also talks briefly about what dating can be like if you’re an atheist dating someone who is not. There are also a few very interesting examples of atheists and (in some cases) their families fighting religion in schools.

 

A lengthy appendix offers information on websites, organizations, and resources for more information. There are listings for how to meet other unbelievers online as well as scholarships available for atheists and agnostics. Copious endnotes citing sources make up most of the back matter, and a glossary is also included.

 

GETTING PERSONAL: 

Here’s the thing: my husband and I are atheists. We are raising our child as an atheist in the sense that he knows what we believe/do not believe and why. We tell him all the time that he does not have to believe what we believe now or ever. He can make his own choices. We are happy to teach him about any religion he’s interested in. If he wants to ever go to church, we can do that. We are raising him to be compassionate, open-minded, respectful, and moral. We are ethical vegetarians, support civic causes, identify as feminists, give to charities we believe in, and volunteer our time.

 

While I identify as an atheist, it’s not something that comes up a whole lot. We don’t spend much time talking about not being religious. I don’t like being defined by what I don’t believe. I have been an atheist for so long now, and am surrounded by so many other atheists or people who could care less if I’m an atheist that I’ve had the luxury of generally forgetting that this attitude of fear/anger/hate exists. But if you’re a teen and just coming out as an atheist, it can be very scary, or at the very least can seem uncertain or delicate. Though why should it? Declaring yourself an atheist should be no more interesting, noteworthy, or delicate than proclaiming you are a person of faith.

 

I would have snatched this book up in a hot second when I was a teenager, for a variety of really complicated and personal reasons. Being able to hear the voices and experiences of other teens would have felt invaluable to me and made me feel less alone. The looks at possible conversations an atheist might have with people who are believers and how to handle some of the big topics that get brought up would have been sections I would have memorized. I did have most of those conversations, at some point. I have had to defend my views endlessly over the years, especially as an outspoken teenager. Now, if religion somehow comes up in conversations with someone I don’t know well, I generally say we’re not religious and leave it at that. But I recognized and related to the impassioned teenage voices in What If I’m an Atheist?. Seidman’s book is an easy-to-use and in-depth resources for atheists or those seeking to understand atheism better and should be included in all collections.

 

 

ATHEISM IN YA: 

I searched for blog posts or articles that look at atheism in YA and didn’t come up with a whole lot. The ones I did come up with mention the small handful of titles that address atheism or unbelievers in some way. Know of other books or posts? Share them with us!

The New York Times Sunday Book Review “Ali Berman’s ‘Misdirected,’ and More” by Mark Oppenheimer. 

YALSA’s The Hub, “The Big Five (+1) in YA: Atheism and Agnosticism” by Whitney Etchison. 

Gabrielle Prendergast’s “Books for Atheist Teens.” 

DiversifYA interview with Nicole Wolverton. 

 

 Additional #FSYALit Posts:

 

 

If you would like to recommend additional titles on this topic, please leave us a comment, tweet us (Amanda MacGregor @CiteSomething or Karen Jensen @TLT16), or email us at the addresses provided on the About TLT page.  We always look forward to hearing what books others value and recommend.