Published August 2018
Michael’s family just moved for his dad’s work. Again. After his dad promised that the last move was going to be the final move. Worse, atheist Michael is being sent to Catholic School, with its stupid uniforms and religion and rules. He’s sure he’s not going to make any friends and will be trapped in his own perception of hell (assuming he believed in hell, which he doesn’t) for the next two years until he graduates. Then, in Theology class, a girl starts arguing with the nun over saints. Here, Michael realizes, is someone he can be friends with. He chases the girl down after class and Lucy invites Michael to sit with her friends.
Eventually he is asked to join their secret club, Heretics Anonymous. Lucy is actually Catholic, and believes in it, except for the part where women can’t hold any real power. She’d want to be a priest, but it will never happen, and she’s upset over it. Avi is Jewish and gay. Eden is the youngest in a very Catholic family, but is a practicing Celtic Reconstructionist Polytheist. Max is a Unitarian who loves cloaks and hates the dress code.
At first all H.A. does is sit around and discuss what’s wrong with the school. Then Michael suggests that they start doing things. Things like subverting the dress code by leaving pairs of neon shoelaces around the school. Or when they print a paper to counter the overly censored school paper.
But is H.A. making the school better? Or worse?
But one day Michael takes it all too far.
I thought that the book was really well written. The story was engaging with really good pacing. I didn’t realize how long I’d read for, and I immediately wanted to go back to reading it. I wish there was already a sequel! (On the other hand, no sequel because it’s perfect as it is.) It was highlighted in Buzzfeed’s YA books to read this summer and it’s easy to see why.
The evolution of Michael’s relationships, including his romance with Lucy were engaging and, again, well paced. Avi is distrustful of him at first, and doesn’t want Lucy to invite Michael to join H.A. Lucy falls for him, but slowly. Michael is closer to some members than others, and he never hangs out with Eden alone, for example, but she’s a friend in his circle. So it’s more realistic than if they were all the bestest buddies ever.
I don’t think the reader will find any shocking reveals, but even if they’re predictable, they’re well done.
I really liked that the characters were quite diverse. There are Latinas, Asians, and Black students, and it’s nice to see that their race is not a defining characteristic a la The Baby-Sitters Club where Jessi was Black and did ballet and that was all of her character development. Avi being gay is also not a defining characteristic but when it’s used, it’s used well.
Henry does a good job of presenting what’s wrong with that sort of school environment, including the abstinence assembly and the teacher’s morality clauses and how they’re enforced. But through Michael’s eyes, we also see a softening toward the church and things that are good within it. Both believers and non-believers can enjoy the book.
I thought that the “villain” of the story–Theresa, a soldier of Christ with no ability to see beyond that into the gray areas–is something of a cardboard cutout. I sort of get why she cares so much, but she’s still a flimsy villain. I wish she were a little more developed and three dimensional. Some of the secondary characters, like almost all of the teachers are also less defined than they could be.
Overall, a great book if you like realistic fiction and YA.