Book Review: Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry
A recent article suggested that faith is one of the last remaining subjects that are taboo in YA literature, which reminded me that I had not yet written a review of one of the best books I have read in a long time that talked about faith and spirituality in the life of teens: Heretic’s Anonymous by Katie Henry.
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.
With my new commute to work, I have about an hours drive each way and I have been listening to a lot of audio books. I’m a pretty new audio book connoisseur and the person doing the reading can make or break a book (I’ve stopped several because they had a terrible reader). This was a good production that drew me into the story and kept me engaged. So as an audio book, I recommend it.
I was drawn to this book by both the cover and the title. I mean, there’s burnt toast on the cover, it’s intriguing. But I approached this book with personal caution because as a Christian, I’m always hesitant when a book starts out with “Michael is an atheist”, because I don’t want to have my personal faith choices outright attacked. This book does not do that in any way and I appreciated so much the way that it handles and introduces a wide variety of faith perspectives and discussions. In fact, here we find a thoughtful group of teens who are wrestling with personal identity and faith and none of them really attack or try and convert the other. It was a refreshing reminder that people can hold very different faith points of view and still care about and respect one another. The way Henry handles each characters faith is thoughtful and respectful. I can’t speak to whether or not the representations of each faith is authentic or accurate, but I felt like it was respectful.
I could personally really identify with Lucy who is both Christian and Feminist. Michael assumes that she can not truly be Catholic as a feminist and Lucy reminds him time and time again that she very much embraces her faith, she also questions and challenges some of the worldly structures of her faith that oppress and demean women. I’ve had some of the same conversations that Lucy has with my friends who are also both feminist and Christian. And I love that Katie Henry shows that yes teens are intelligent, deep, and wrestling with these issues. The depiction of teens Henry presents in Heretic’s Anonymous is very much on point with the teens I am raising and interacting with daily.
Heretic’s Anonymous isn’t just about faith, it’s about family, friendship, finding yourself and having the courage to stand up for what you believe and challenging the system. It’s also about finding that delicate balance between standing up and speaking out and knowing how to do so in ethical ways that respects others around you. In a time when #resistance is trending and young people are in fact speaking out about things like gun control, Heretic’s Anonymous is a reflective look at how you can stand up and challenge the system and what the consequences for one’s actions might be.
This book is entertaining and reflective and thoughtful; it’s fun and engaging while also looking into some serious issues. I appreciate that it represents such a wide variety of faith view points in the characters, the discussions that they have, and the ways in which they have them. None of these teens are perfect and there are some major falling outs, because faith is deep and personal. And I think that is one of the ways in which Heretic’s Anonymous excels, it really shines a light on exactly how deep and personal faith can be while sharing with us these lives that are wrestling with faith in a world in which they are trying to find themselves while the adults around them are telling them how to dress, act, think and be. Highly recommended.
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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