Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Pub. Date: 2018
Genres: Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Young Adult
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
After watching way too many Mr. Atheist videos, I was pretty excited to find a YA book where the protagonist is atheist and has to attend a Catholic school. It then spoke to my high school self, who was very into comparing world religions and denominations of Christianity, by then showing that this atheist teen joins a group of friends who have a variety of beliefs, including a Celtic Reconstructionist Polytheist and a Catholic girl who wants to be a priest. Sign me up for Heretics Anonymous!
Our protagonist, Michael Ausman, has been forced to move again and start a new school again, after his father promised he could stay at one high school. Now he’s attending a Catholic school while his father is off in Belgium. As he feels betrayed and angry at his father, he tries to survive in his new school when he realizes that he isn’t the only one who might not be Catholic. Where he can’t retaliate the way he wants to against his father, he can retaliate against the school’s out-of-date sex ed and the school rules. Fighting against school rules in Katie Henry’s Heretics Anonymous is similar to Legally Blondes.
On the religious end of things, I loved how this book was respectful to different religions and specific viewpoints in Catholicism. I like that Michael explains why he doesn’t believe, though it’s not from the view of proving the existence of a deity or biblical events. I like seeing his Pagan friend show her altar and her describing what in polytheism she believes. For Catholicism, I like that we see more than the typical dogma a non-Catholic would expect in a Catholic school. Miss I-Want-to-Be-a-Priest Lucy challenges the teachers on Catholic history, like the female Catholic saints seldom made history by being well-behaved. She knows her stuff. I also like that another side of Catholicism is shown by talking about another character being the type of Catholic to drive an hour to church so that she has to wear a veil and listen to Latin liturgy.
My high school self would have gladly ignored that character development is lacking in favor of spotlighting the religious tolerance and respect. My current, adult self has to point out that Michael and Lucy, to some degree, are the only ones who develop. Michael has a revelation about how faith and belief play in some people’s lives. He also learns that some reactions to negative events are not necessarily appropriate. Lucy’s primary growth is recognizing that some promises won’t be kept. While I like a lot of the other characters, there isn’t growth in them by the end of the novel. But I do like that the characters’ diversity extends to race and sexuality.
I did love the humor and the snark. There were so many parts that made me smile and laugh. Some of it had to do with religion, like commenting on how the Bible is considered more appropriate for kids to read than Harry Potter. Some of it was Michael’s mental commentary.
A minor note: There is a chapter where two of the characters smoke weed, and I’m not sure how accurate it is. Someone who has experience with marijuana should comment on the accuracy of how a person high on it acts.
If you don’t like people poking fun at religion or generally criticizing something under the umbrella of Christianity, you should probably avoid this book. If you can handle some critique of religion and want to see religious tolerance and diverse characters, Heretics Anonymous might be a good match for you. I recommend this funny book that examines religion, school rules, and reactions to family drama.