Heretics Anonymous — Katie Henry

Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

TITLE: Heretics Anonymous
AUTHOR: Katie Henry
RELEASES: August 7th, 2018; Katherine Tegen Books
GENRE: Contemporary
AGE RANGE: YA

SYNOPSIS: 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.

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First of all, I’ll preface this review by saying I think that I get to look at this one from a pretty unique angle. I was raised in an extremely religious and strict Christian household, and though it wasn’t Catholicism, there was SO MUCH in this book that I could relate to 100% from my childhood. On the other hand, I don’t follow an organized religion at all now (if anything, I’d say I’m somewhere along the lines of pagan and pantheist), but my journey to get here took me through several years of atheism that looked remarkably similar to Michael’s various thought processes. Basically, my point is: this book was written for me, and I can acknowledge that long enough to say that, if you are committed to an Abrahamic religion and don’t enjoy critiques of said religious, this is probably one that you would want to steer clear of.

I don’t know why people assume shit like that. Like being an atheist requires some sort of tragic backstory.

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While the book never entirely vilifies any one specific religion, there is a lot of criticism of Christianity and the Bible’s contents. The narrator points out a lot of flaws in the theology, and more than anything, a tremendous amount of hypocrisy in the school’s administration that, while not necessarily exclusive to religious private schools, is certainly to be blamed in this scenario on the specific beliefs of the people in charge at St. Clare.

“Don’t worry,” she tells me. “There’s room at this school for people like us.”

That said, I’d also like to inform you that something I appreciated about the story is the fact that it never feels like a conversion book. This book is not here to convert you to or away from any particular set of beliefs, but to show you the flaws and qualities to many. With such a diverse cast of characters, I felt that we were offered a lovely number of views, between Lucy’s feminist take on Catholicism, Eden’s paganism (Celtic Reconstructionist Polytheists is the exact label), Max’s Unitarianism, or Avi’s experience as a gay Jewish boy. Time and care are taken to tell us a little bit about each of these paths, and even to clear up misconceptions a few times (especially about Eden’s beliefs and rituals). At the end of the day, the message is clear: differences in religious beliefs do not have to cause divides between friends or even love interests.(ETA: I forgot to mention, but Lucy is Columbian and Max is Korean!)

“Sister Joseph Marie made me take my earrings off today. Because they have these Celtic spirals on them, and she said that was a pagan symbol so I couldn’t wear it, which is—ugh. Just because it isn’t a cross doesn’t mean it’s evil.”

As someone who was raised in a Christian home, there were so many moments that had me either laughing out loud or cringing from secondhand embarrassment, and you can take that as you will. We see depictions of many common problems in Christian youth settings, such as slut-shaming girls for not waiting until marriage to have sex, removing a woman’s right to consent and bodily autonomy regarding her clothing (such as a uniform inspection scene that was actually a bit triggering for me), firing teachers for not following “morality clauses”, public shaming of children as punishment, and mischaracterizing individuals from other religions in sometimes incredibly harmful ways.

This is the calmest cannibalization ritual I’ve ever seen.

There’s even a scene in which the characters discuss how colonialism is to blame for the wide reaches of Catholicism/Christianity in many countries, and that’s a topic that is not touched upon nearly enough in any setting, so I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of how important it is to accept and address this fact.

“You don’t have a monopoly on suffering, okay? Other people get to be mad about their lives. Your broken leg doesn’t make my sprained ankle hurt any less.”

All of that aside, there’s more to this story than just a commentary on religion and hypocrisy; there’s also an underlying story of family, friendship, knowing when to follow and when to break rules, and learning how to show forgiveness and empathy for our fellow human beings. We’re shown that there is no “one size fits all” answer, and that religion, despite its flaws, can be a tremendous comfort for many individuals and that’s perfectly acceptable.

“You can make mistakes, you can be human, but—you’re still the greatest good I’ve ever known.”

The only legitimate complaint I have about this book is the romance, which felt weak and lacking to me most of the time. First of all, with Lucy’s various ideals and goals in life, the relationship didn’t feel to me as though it had the chance for a very solid foundation. Second, I just couldn’t connect to the forming romance enough to root for them or to care much about whether or not they ended up together. Because of this, I’d say this is more of a 4.5/5 rating, but it’s such an important and underrepresented subject matter that it deserves the hype.

All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to Katherine Tegen Books for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

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Just a 25-year-old trying to juggle motherhood, grad school, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

20 thoughts on “Heretics Anonymous — Katie Henry

  1. This actually sounds like a really interesting book. Although I am of no particular religion I am not an atheist either. I just don’t think about religion in terms of myself apart from with fascination for the way it drives other people, either positively or negatively. I like the sound of this 🙂

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  2. I’m so excited to read this one!! Thanks so much for your thoughtful review. I am an agnostic who grew up in a very non-religious household and knew almost nothing about religion until college, so I was really curious to hear about this book from people that did have a more religious upbringing. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

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  3. I have JUST ORDERED THIS. All because of you!! 😭💛💛I’m really excited about it. I’m currently rereading Autoboyography, which is focused on Mormons not catholic, but like I relate to a LOT of the poisonous things that go on in religious lives/homes and I am very keen to see it from Heretics Anonymous angles. (I also grew up in a seriously strict Christian household and it’s pretty frikkin damaging.) And for some reason I love the cover too, because it actually makes me think I *can* cook toast better than I thought I could. That is seriously burned. SO burned. 😂

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    1. This makes me soooo happy! I hope it means as much to you as it did to me. Coming from similar backgrounds, I can tell you that I honestly cringed and laughed so much. Oh and yay for rereading Autoboyography! I read that recently and it was super cute. And yes, the toast is… not ideal 😂😂

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  4. I saw another blogger likening this to the movie “Saved” starring Mandy Moore. Your review makes me think even more about that film. This is already on my TBR, but this pushed it up on my need to read pile! I am basically like you in that I grew up in a very religious background, but now am very far away from that original religious belief systems. Interesting to see this little tidbit that we share. Great seeing this review!

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  5. This is going on my TBR now 😀
    I didn’t know many religious people when i was in school, and my family isn’t particularly religious either, apart from my Grandma, who never mentions the topic.
    Still, i find this setting super fascinating.

    Also, that burnt toast on the cover is really stress-inducing… 😀

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