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.
Heretics Anonymous is the story of a group of ‘heretics’ in a Catholic school, narrated by the newest addition to the group, Michael. He has just moved into town reluctantly and hates his father for moving without giving their family any choices. He is also an atheist in a Catholic school, and there is a clash between his thinking and their beliefs, but he usually restrains himself to snarky comments. The group consists of Lucy, a devout Catholic who nevertheless doesn’t agree with the misogyny of the Catholic Church, Avi, a gay Jewish kid, Max, who is Korean and belongs to another church that he chose, and Eden, who worships a Celtic goddess. For them, the secret group is a way to rant about the frustrations of being at a Catholic school, the rigid nonsensical rules and anger about the misinformation the school spreads among their students. Michael’s constant snark when it comes to Catholic traditions is amusing, to say the least.
When they decide to take things a little public, fighting back against the school rules and the lies they say about sex education, the atmosphere at the school becomes charged, to say the least. Some students find it amusing, some students also find courage to stand up for what they believe is right, but some students like Teresa, who comes from a Very Conservative family, think it is an attack on their religion and try to fight back. In the midst of this, the administration makes their grip on the rules stronger. Meanwhile, the Heretics are becoming closer friends, and Michael himself is hoping Lucy will date him. There is the question of him not believing in her faith, and wondering if she questions so much about it, why does she either. Eventually, in anger against his father, he does something very drastic against the school, and has to face the consequences of that as well as a confrontation with his father.
Obviously the Heretics don’t entirely succeed in changing their school, but they do help other students speak up. The book also confronts the discrimination faced by minorities in such hateful spaces and how any action of resistance is seen as an attack on the majority’s values (major timely shade thrown on ‘Religious Task Forces’ – even if this book was written way before it) and how even Michael’s way of thinking is not entirely right. He learns to not dismiss someone’s faith just because he doesn’t agree with it, more like understand and give people the respect to believe something that gives them comfort. It does its best to give voice to all kinds of belief – Eden’s choosing a religion that she feels comfortable with, Avi choosing which parts of his religion make logical sense, Max just wanting something simple, Michael and Lucy who question the various tenets of Christianity together, as a non-believer and a believer. But along with religion, the understanding is extended to familial dynamics, how a parent’s parenting style may be affected by their own upbringing and the importance of communication to address grievances *side eyes myself*.
On the whole, a nice snarky comedy about what rules to follow and what you should think twice over.
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Katherine Tegen, via Edelweiss.