Michael Ausman is seething. His father has uprooted their family yet again for a job promotion — this time Michael was barely two months into his junior year. Now he is faced with making yet another new group of friends in another new school, and to make matters worse, that school is a Catholic one. Michael is an atheist, and he has no interest in setting down any roots lest they be ripped back out again.
But on the first day of school, he is utterly taken when his classmate Lucy offers a passionate feminist argument during a history lesson on the saints. And in befriending her, he finds himself connected to a surprising group of students who welcome him into their secret society: Heretics Anonymous. Its members include Eden, a paganist from an uber religious family, Max, an oddball who breaks dress code with his heroic cloaks, Avi, Jewish AND gay amongst this fold, and Lucy, who surprises him when her heretic nature comes from her fierce love for Catholicism and desire to one day breach the glass ceiling between her and priestdom.
The friends have just been meeting as a sounding board and support group, but Michael convinces them that they could be doing more. Their missions range from annotating the school’s horrifyingly inaccurate abstinence-only DVD, to rallying the students to find increasingly hilarious loop-holes in the dress code, to unveiling an alternative school newspaper. But as Michael’s anger towards his father’s negligence grows, he allows it to get the better of him, and when he commits a solo act in the name of Heretics Anonymous that goes too far, he finds himself facing the loss and endangerment of the people he loves the most.
I pick this book up a lot at the library because the cover makes me laugh, with its clear reference to “I saw Jesus in my burnt toast” levels of religious delusion. I’m always up for a teen book that challenges organized religion, and I got that and more from this book. Michael is a very sarcastic, very angry narrator who also manages to be very endearing, and his anger at his family situation is sympathetically presented. The other members of Heretics Anonymous are delightful. Lucy is among the Hermione Granger greats for heroines. While I have a hard time empathizing with her ability to negotiate her Catholicism and her feminism, she is a ferociously smart and open-hearted young lady, and that Michael falls first for her brains and boldness is a joy to read. Avi is Lucy’s number one ally, Eden is a wonderful voice of reason for the group (providing much needed sympathy for the books central villain, a highly unlikeable Sister’s Pet), and Max is mostly there to be the Sweet if Weird one.
The plot is a real page-turner — each act of subterfuge by the group unrolls with great tension and humor, though the tension ramps up and the humor lessens as the stakes get higher. The issues that the group take up against their school are all ones I’m very passionate about so it was easy for me to root for them. The author gets the reader so invested in the group’s friendship that when Michael goes rogue, it’s particularly devastating and you really root for him to win them back, even though I’m not sure if I would have forgiven him in their shoes.
I highly recommend this, especially if you enjoy smart realistic YA like John Corey Whaley.