by Christian M. Frank
A shy new girl in school would not usually have to fight off new friends, unless, like Allie, in Catholic Reluctantly, you go to John Paul 2 High, with only 6 students. Such was the misfortune the pretty blonde teen who was forced by her mother into the fledgling school, after a terrifying incident with a gunman in public school. In her first encounter with her fellow students, she overhears them talking about a “psycho kid” in the hallways, only to be followed by having whipped cream sprayed in her face by an unseen attacker in the girl’s room. Allie assumes that her fellow students think she is a mental case after her incident with the gunman, and have decided to humiliate her. After this dismal beginning, it takes the other students of John Paul 2 High a long time to gain Allie’s confidence. Then there is the strange Catholicity of the school. They pray the rosary before school and something called the “Divine Mercy Chaplet” after the day has ended. Allie can’t wait to escape from this strange place into the familiarity of her boyfriend’s car.
Handsome athlete George Peterson, however, has his eye on Allie, and as he tries to fit in as the new member of the public school wrestling team, George discovers how little respect Allie’s boyfriend Tyler has for her, and struggles with the decision on whether or not to tell her what he is really like. He is afraid that his growing affection for Allie might meet with her scorn.
Author Christian Frank understands the minds of today’s Catholic teens and the six main characters, who run the gamut from on fire members of the JPII generation, from judgmental zealots, and shy former homeschoolers, to worldly young women like Allie. Puzzled by her encounter with these strange young Catholics, and faced with new ideas, about the faith she only practiced at Christmastime, Allie doesn’t know what to think about the strange kids at the tiny school. “Catholicism, Truth. It was hard to talk about things like this—it was using muscles she’d never used before”. At first, she is put off by their straightforward class discussions; they are convinced that the truth can be found, and that it isn’t relative. Soon the truth begins to pursue her, and open her mind to different ways of thinking about what love is, and isn’t. The “Truth Guy” as Allie has learned, from a poem read in her English class, has a way of tripping you up in your former ideas of right and wrong, making life more complicated, and beautiful.
If the theme of “Catholic Reluctantly” is to show Allie’s conversion from typical teen to a teen in pursuit of the Truth, it is done with subtlety and with likeable, believable characters. Nothing happens in this story which couldn’t happen in any high school in America. The overly-zealous, heavy handed Catholic is not the hero of this story; it is the quietly charitable Catholics who only seek confrontation when no other means will do. There was a bit more detail about high school wrestling than I would have liked; perhaps this was aimed at attracting young men.
No inappropriate material, though there is some reference to pornographic magazines, it is dealt with in a Catholic manner. Relationships are examined in the light of Catholic teaching which makes “Catholic Reluctantly” the perfect book for those who enjoy contemporary Catholic fiction with a purpose.
This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Catholic, Reluctantly.