An atheist, a Unitarian who loves cloaks, a Catholic, a Celtic Reconstructionist Polytheist, and a gay Jewish walk into a basement… It sounds like the beginning of a joke but it’s actually the beginning of a beautiful friendship and a hilarious and fantastic book. Hey-o! I is back with another review. This time I’m going to be reviewing a book I adored from beginning to end.
Title: Heretics Anonymous
Author: Katie Henry
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 might sound like the kind of book that is so full of religion that it might be too much for one to handle and it is—full of religion I mean—but it doesn’t take it to the point of preaching and boredom. It’s actually a hilarious book that balances serious topics and comedy. There’s a reason the cover says “A Divine Comedy.”
This book is one that preaches tolerance as it got this amazing group of friends with completely different sets of beliefs that bonded over the feeling of being outcasts due to their beliefs and way of thinking. To be able to see this I’m going to be talking about the characters but I’ll try to keep it as vague as possible to avoid spoilers.
As the main character, we got Michael who narrates the story. After being forced by his parents to move once again in the middle of the semester he is set to attend St. Clare, a private Catholic school, but there’s a problem. Michael is a non-believer, an atheist. He is one hell of a character too. He is angsty, can be annoying and at certain points disrespectful but at the same time, he’s a softy. He is also set on his beliefs, or rather lack of, and believes that there are certain things at his new schools that need to be changed. But even with all his flaws, Michael is a good person and he’s the one with the most character development throughout the story.
Lucy, she is Colombian, a feminist, a smart woman, and a devout Catholic and to make things even better, and more complicated, she wants to be a priest. She believes the Catholic church should be more progressive and because of this, she isn’t afraid to call them out for their sexism and lack of acceptance. The scene where Michael first meets her and thinks she’s an atheist is one savage AF. When a nun says that well-behaved women really do make history she pulls out all the receipts of all the saints and finished her out with a K.O. by saying, “Well if you’re going to ignore the fact that most of those women chose to die rather than do what other people told them to, then I think you’re pretty close to blasphemy.” BOOM! I mean I really hope you don’t consider that a spoiler because it’s such a small tiny thing. If you do, then I’m sorry. I honestly adore and admire her. She is a strong character that is ready to make history.
Avi is Jewish but he’s also gay and in a Catholic school that’s enough to set him apart. He’s the type of character that if needed will call you out on your bs without even blinking. Yes, at certain points I thought he was a little dramatic but not in the typical gay stereotype. He’s also savage af so I’ll let that pass. There were times when I wanted to slap some sense into him but I still loved him and at the end, he was still a good friend. I love how Katie Henry didn’t make him into the stereotypical token gay friend and as a gay woman I really, really, really appreciate it.
Eden and Max didn’t get full on character development but they still were complete characters who could tell apart from the others. Actually, each character was their own individual and could stand apart on their own. You can easily tell them apart and for someone who always confuses characters when reading a book with more than a few—and by few I mean 2 or 3—main or secondary characters that’s saying something. Oh! I forgot to mention Eden and Max’s set of beliefs. Eden is a Celtic Reconstructionist Polytheist, usually referred to as pagan, and Max is a Unitarian but his true reason for being in the group is because he wants to be able to wear a clock without breaking school rules.
I know I mentioned that some of the characters can be annoying but I promise they’re not completely annoying and that doesn’t ruin the story.
As much as religion seems like the main theme it isn’t that way. One of the main focus of this book is family relationship and how they affect us. I’ve mentioned before that this book preaches tolerance but that’s not the only good thing it preaches. It also preaches forgiveness and asks the question, when is it okay to break the rules?
But it’s not all seriousness as this book is hilarious since Michael is a smartass. Yes, granted that he makes —well thinks—some really dark jokes that for some can be considered disrespectful but it was his actions that spoke as proof that he isn’t a total dick. I was honestly laughing so much that I think my roommate was probably thinking I’ve gone mad. This book is so good that even with the lack of time—thanks uni—I read it in two sittings while completely ignoring my responsibilities and I only regretted it a little. I got it from the library but I loved it so much that I now want to buy my own copy so I can annotate the hell out of it. Now to prove that it’s indeed hilarious and to show you the type of humor it has I’m going to be adding two quotes here.
“It’s theology. Were you expecting sex, drugs, and rock and roll?”
“One out of the three would be nice.”
“It’s first period and only one person definitely wants me dead. Things are going better than expected.”
This book tries and succeeds to preach tolerance but certain comments made by the main character might seem insulting. As a Christian, I personally didn’t feel offended but I can’t speak for everyone else. If you’re a Christian who doesn’t want your beliefs to be challenged, criticized or have someone pointing out the hypocrisy in them then I think you should stay away from this book. Still, I think you should now that this book tries to clear out misconceptions of various religions while trying to show both sides of the coin. It points out the hypocrisy BUT ALSO the good qualities. It isn’t preachy, a conversion story or anti-religion. This book only shows that there are no perfect sets of beliefs while reminding us that no matter what tolerance is important.
Now to finalize this long post I want to say that this book is amazing, especially for a debut novel, and that I want you to go read it. God knows I am ready to read anything she’ll ever write. As for rating, I think this one is really obvious.
Before I go I want to give a shout out to John from John’s Tainted Fantasy for always being my beta reader and being patient with me. Thank you! You are indeed the best. That is all for today.