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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

Book Review: Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke

Publisher’s description

It’s Kind of a Funny Story meets Daria in the darkly hilarious tale of a teen’s attempt to remake her public image and restore inner peace through reality TV. The only thing 17-year-old Jane Sinner hates more than failure is pity. After a personal crisis and her subsequent expulsion from high school, she’s going nowhere fast. Jane’s well-meaning parents push her to attend a high school completion program at the nearby Elbow River Community College, and she agrees, on one condition: she gets to move out.

Jane tackles her housing problem by signing up for House of Orange, a student-run reality show that is basically Big Brother, but for Elbow River Students. Living away from home, the chance to win a car (used, but whatever), and a campus full of people who don’t know what she did in high school… what more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that understands why she’d rather turn to Freud than Jesus to make sense of her life, but she’ll settle for fifteen minutes in the proverbial spotlight.

As House of Orange grows from a low-budget web series to a local TV show with fans and shoddy T-shirts, Jane finally has the chance to let her cynical, competitive nature thrive. She’ll use her growing fan base, and whatever Intro to Psychology can teach her, to prove to the world—or at least viewers of substandard TV—that she has what it takes to win.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

nice try jane“Sometimes I’m afraid that if I don’t feel amused, I won’t feel anything at all.”–Jane Sinner

This was completely enjoyable. It was my first read for winter break and I easily read it in one day because I couldn’t put it down. The narrative voice is EXCELLENT. As a totally character-driven reader, I was instantly hooked.

Jane, who recently attempted suicide while dealing with her depression and a loss of faith, is looking for a new start. Newly expelled from high school, she agrees to finishing up her credits at the local community college—if she can move out. She needs a break from her religious parents (who think returning to youth group and church will solve all her problems) and is hopeful that community college, where no one knows her or her past, will be different. But, it’s kind of hard to fly under the radar when you immediately begin appearing on a small-time reality show, which is exactly what Jane does with House of Orange. The student-run reality show airs on YouTube and will provide Jane with a cheap place to live. Jane, who thinks of herself as a “washed-up nihilist,” is snarky, savvy, and brimming with personality. She’s perfect for this show. She looks to establish authority early, determined to win through alliances, manipulation, surveillance, and a little psychology. She begins to grow close to Robbie Patel, her fellow contestant, hoping they can be the last two left standing, but things don’t always go as planned, especially for Jane. She came to college looking for a second chance, but can get a third? Maybe finishing high school online would’ve just been easier than all this.

 

In the midst of all this reality show filming and going to classes, Jane is still dealing with her mental illness. Or, really, she’s not dealing with it. She hasn’t been taking her meds and the only psychiatrist she’s been talking to is the one she invented in her head. She is sort of passionately indifferent to everything. She’s not necessarily suicidal anymore, but wouldn’t mind ceasing to exist. These thoughts—of indifference and of not minding to not exist—are so well captured throughout her story and feel SO familiar to those of us who have depression. There is a particular hypothetical exchange with her supervisor at work that was just fantastic. Jane imagines calling out not necessarily sick, but telling her supervisor she can’t come in because she can’t get out of bed, because there’s no reason to, because she can’t feel anything, because she’s dead inside, and she imagines this supervisor telling her to make a list of things she’s grateful for, drink some tea, listen to a favorite song, or look at cats on the internet—that should help her feel better. Sounds familiar, right?

 

This funny and smart book is not to be missed. Jane’s deadpan voice will draw readers in, and once all the reality show shenanigans start, they will be desperate to know what happens, especially once all the duplicity going on begins to be revealed. An excellent look at second (and third and fourth) chances. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544867857
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 01/09/2018

Book Review: Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown

Publisher’s description

georgiaJoanna meets the perfect girl for her and must decide whether to break a promise that could change everything for her and her family or lose out on love in this charming young adult romance that’s perfect for fans of Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ and Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

Joanna Gordon has been out and proud for years, but when her popular radio evangelist father remarries and decides to move all three of them from Atlanta to the more conservative Rome, Georgia, he asks Jo to do the impossible: to lie low for the rest of her senior year. And Jo reluctantly agrees.

Although it is (mostly) much easier for Jo to fit in as a straight girl, things get complicated when she meets Mary Carlson, the oh-so-tempting sister of her new friend at school. But Jo couldn’t possibly think of breaking her promise to her dad. Even if she’s starting to fall for the girl. Even if there’s a chance Mary Carlson might be interested in her, too. Right?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I enjoyed the heck out of this book. It’s not perfect—sometimes the plot felt convoluted, sometimes characters acted in ways that felt inconsistent—but this is a great story that feels really fresh and, super bonus, is a f/f romance with a happy ending. I find it easy to forgive minor flaws when the other many positives far outweigh things I found lacking.

 

The plot is pretty well summarized in that description up there, but it’s all of the nuance that makes it worth reading. The fact that the story is so much about faith and identity was really interesting and, again, feels like something we don’t see a whole lot of. Joanna moves to small Rome, Georgia for her senior year. She thinks of it as “where queer girls go to die.” For a lot of reasons (none of them particularly great), her reverend dad would like Joanna to go back in the closet, or “lie low” as he calls it. Tied to this is the fact that Joanna intends to start her own radio ministry, like her dad, to help support kids like her—gay kids of faith and teens in general. If Joanna “lies low” for the year, she can eventually share her true self again with people and come out on her radio show.

 

The whole deal seems kind of bonkers, but she goes along with it. She gets a makeover to appear more “normal,” in a kind of “why not go for broke?” move. Joanna starts attending the youth group at her new stepmother’s church, quickly becomes friends with a close-knit group of girls, and suddenly is doing things like going to football games, parties, and sleepovers. The story could stop there—could just be about a girl who was out but now isn’t, and how faith ties in with all of it—but it takes the much more interesting step of having Joanna fall for Mary Carlson, a seemingly straight girl and the sister of Joanna’s one other real friend, B.T.B. She keeps getting signals that maybe Mary Carlson could be into her—something she finds almost impossible to believe but readers sure won’t—and before long finds herself in a super weird position: dating a girl who wants to come out, but pretending her (Joanna’s) attraction to girls is also a new revelation, and really needing to not be out herself, to keep up her part of her agreement with her dad.

 

For the most part, the story follows a predictable path, but it’s completely fun, cute, and satisfying the whole way through. Despite Joanna’s dad’s desire for her to hide her sexuality for a while, he is supportive and loving (which is part of what makes his request seem so weird and inconsistent with who he actually is), as is her stepmother, other family members, and nearly all of her friends old and new. Me telling you the girls get their happily ever after isn’t meant to spoil anything, but is meant to reinforce how important this book, and the girls’ relationship, is. Funny, thoughtful, sweet, and complicated, this book is a necessary addition to all YA collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062270986

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 08/30/2016