There is a lot to like in Catholic, Reluctantly, however it is missing enough dramatic weight to make it memorable.
This book, published by Chesterton Press, is the first in a series of young adult Catholic novels that revolves around the students and parents involved in creating a new Catholic school called John Paul II High School. The students include:
- Allie, a cafeteria Catholic who previously attended a public school until she was involved in a gun scare.
- George, a top wrestler who has a crush on Allie.
- Cecelia, who is incessantly bright and chipper.
- J.P., a troublemaker.
- Brian, the smallest student with the strongest moral compass.
- Liz, who helps out.
- James, a self-righteous loner.
The book starts off on the first day of school, as all of the kids struggle to fit in and feel welcome. George and Allie feel the most isolated, as they are one of the few whose parents aren’t also the teachers. George, friends with most of his classmates, has given up a promising high school wrestling career to be there and Allie is only attending because her parents are afraid to let her stay in the nearby public school.
The bulk of the book has the teens dealing with each other, J.P.’s pranks, and the schools tenuous existence. Eventually they get involved in events at the competing public school where they are challenged with promoting the faith, pornography, bullying and bias.
The numerous small challenges the teens face are great examples of using your faith to make good moral decisions and/or stand up for what is right, no matter what the consequence. Plus, the different scholastic lessons and social events are positive examples as well.
As a parent who home schooled his two children, I know how realistic these characters are and how challenging being a moral teen in a fallen world can be.
The biggest problem with this book, and it is a problem, is that nothing major happens. There are hints of future big events, like how the school property resides on valuable land, or the creepy, unknown student involved in the gun scare that may be planning something greater. But, there are no big payoffs in this first installment.
I think the issue here is that the author (or authors, as a group of writers are working together to pen the series) treated this first book as one in the installment instead of a stand-alone book. That’s a serious flaw.
If this were a stand-alone book, with nothing coming afterwards, then this story would have been told very differently. The creepy gun guy storyline would have been the focus and the consequences would have been substantially higher. It would have resonated with you long after you put the book down.
In future books in the series I hope the authors realize they need to make each individual book as powerful as possible, which will make the entire series powerful, instead of making a series of books that, only combined, become powerful.
As it stands, Catholic, Reluctantly is a quick and easy read, but not very memorable. Hopefully future books in this series will create greater dramatic tension and consequence.