With a bullet point synopsis reminiscent of Nancy Drew, I wasn’t quite certain of what I was in store for, but I was certain of oine thing: Catholic, Reluctantly was not going to be my usual cup of tea. What I got was a light mystery filled with emotional teen conflicts, some soul searching, hard-hitting elements like hazing and gun violence, and not a lick of magic or monsterage. But I like broadening my horizons, so I gave it a shot. I’m rather pleased that I did.
The story centers on George, a big time wrestler with a heart of gold who went to the state finals and would like nothing better than to return to his old stomping grounds and his old life, a life where he had nothing to worry about but pinning his opponent and getting his homework done, a life where the impending doom of his new school wasn’t constantly weighing on his mind; Allie an average girl who’s been dropped into a weird, new school after a gun scare at her old school and feels like an outcast among the “goody-goody Catholic kids”; Celia, John Paul 2 High’s principle’s daughter (and the nicest person you will ever read about), who struggles with the weighty belief that she alone has to save the school from being closed down or condemned; and James, a new transfer to JP2 High whose bizarre loner personality and tendency to spout disdain set him at odds instantly with everyone at the upstart Catholic high school.
A couple unique things I liked about this book were the smattering of IM conversations which filled in the gaps and linked the characters to their respective clicks. The small cast was a little weird at the beginning (I mean a school with only seven students? Sounds kind of strange), but I actually liked it. I thought at first that the author was trying to keep it simple by keeping his (or her) cast so small, maybe make it easier as I suspect that this is his (or her) first novel, but the lack of peopleage was actually very important to the story. The meager student body of the fledgling high school was important; it made it where, in certain situations, the JP2 kids had to either stick together or risk being swept apart. And with such a small group of students there was no room for clicks to form, which really emphasized the fault lines between them. I also liked the (obvious) emphasis on Catholicism; it’s not often that you come across a book that features faith in an interesting and realistic way. It reminded me strongly of The Dead and the Gone by Susan B. Pfeffer in that the characters really struggled with their faith and with what it meant to live it, even when faced by severe persecution. The JP2 High kids really stand out when compared to the rest of the teen populace, and they catch their share of flack about it. When two of the seven teens join the public school wrestling team, more than their skill on the mats is tested. They meet with people who don't understand them, their faith, or why it is that they're willing to stand apart.
I give Catholic, Reluctantly…
…Three and a half zombies!A quick read with an admirable, if not dimensionally challenged, cast and a heavy-on-consequences but light-on-complexity plot that pulled me along and left me wanting more. I look forward to continuing the saga with Trespasses Against Us.
NOTE: Sophia Institute Press, a non-profit, Catholic publishing house, sent me a complimentary copy of this book for review.