Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry (August 7)
Overview: Micheal has moved four times in ten years. This time, the move has landed him at a prestigious Catholic school instead of the local public school. This does not go well with his atheist beliefs. On his first day, he meets Lucy, an outspoken Catholic girl who's frustrated that she can't change anything about the flaws she sees in the church she loves. She introduces him to the underground club, Heretics Anonymous where students of other faiths come to vent about the unfair policies of the school. Spurred into action by Micheal's fire, the atheist, gay, Jewish boy, pagan girl, Unitarian boy, and Catholic leader make changes in the school that no one will forget. Overall: 5+++
Characters: 5 This book carries a deeply complex narrative that is driven by the amazing detail put into each characters. One of the great tenants of writing is understanding that every character has their own wants and motivations. This is one of the few books where that truly shines through. Henry allows us to understand this extremely diverse cast of characters and stand in everyone's shoes even when we look at the world from Micheal's biased prospective.
Beyond the antics at school, there's so much wonderful family content. Lucy is holding her family together, caring for her brothers, living with her stepfather after her mother left over a year ago. She deals with parental abandonment and being torn between believing her mother will come back and letting her go.
Micheal has a super touching storyline with his father that made me tear up a bit at the end of the book. There's a lot of tension between the two because his dad's job constantly uproots his life, and his dad is never around to help him cope because he's always gone on work trips. This creates a residual resentment that starts to bubble over. On the other side, his father is always working to provide the money he didn't have as a child to support his family and give them everything. His father misses that the kids need him there emotionally too. Watching them find understanding with one another created one of the best parental scenes I've ever read in YA.
Plot: 5 The action is constant in the book. Whether it's a crazy stunt to point out the hypocrisy of St. Claire's, an unsupervised slumber party, or an argument, something is always happening. One thing that I rarely find in books is that every single little scene gives Micheal a little piece of the puzzle he needs to start understanding the world clearly. There's not a single dead moment, which makes the masterpiece of an ending even more beautiful.
Writing: 5 I will read anything Henry writes. The book is totally immersive because every little detail is colored in. Everyone in Micheal's world is a real person. No one exists to just further the story. And, somehow, with all the detail, the story never gets bogged down. She balances some of the toughest topics to tackle in YA perfectly. This was the best book I could have asked for to pull me out of my reading slump.
*Note* Some of the details in the book made me laugh so hard and scream "I've said that." Reading this was quite the cathartic experience for someone who spent a long time at a religious school. Especially the uniform take down. That was my favorite part, and I'm jealous I didn't think of it first.