Catholic Reluctantly

By Christian M. Frank

Sophia Institute Press, 2008

312 pages, $12.95

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Teen Read Makes Faith Cool

It’s difficult to figure out Christian Frank’s intentions in writing Catholic Reluctantly: to assure Catholic school kids that it’s okay to be weird or to convince public school kids that Catholic school kids are okay.

Book 1 of the John Paul 2 High serie s, Catholic Reluctantly is the story of a newly formed Catholic high school in suburban U.S.A.

The school, founded by a Catholic father who left his teaching position at another Catholic high school — presumably because he was ridiculed for teaching Humanae Vitae (Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical on the regulation of birth) — is off to a shaky start.

The school has five students: Cecilia and Liz, daughters of two of the school’s three teachers; George, son of a family friend; James; and an odd character who appears out of nowhere.

Enter Allie, whose mother pulled her out of the local public high school after a gun scare and placed her in John Paul 2 for safety’s sake. Never having practiced her faith, Allie’s unappreciated transfer makes her reluctantly Catholic.

“Allie Weaver sat in the back seat of her mom’s car, slumped down, her blond hair spread behind her over the leather seat of the car. It was her first day at John Paul 2 High, and she was dressed in the official uniform: black skirt, white shirt. She looked exactly like a waitress.

“She saw her mother’s eyes glancing anxiously at her from the rearview mirror. Here comes the pep talk …

“‘So, Allie,’ her mom began in a hopeful voice. ‘How are you feeling?’

“Allie knew that she should just say ‘fine’ and go back to moping. But suddenly all her frustration welled up inside, and she burst out, ‘Why do I have to go to this stupid school, Mom?’

“‘You know why,’ her mom said shortly. ‘Because it’s safer for you.’

Without other options, Allie begins hanging out with the Catholic school kids. Gradually, she opens her mind and gives them a chance.

“Allie had that weirded-out look on her face again. ‘Can’t you guys look at anything without thinking about Mary, or Jesus, or something?’

“George was embarrassed and looked at Cecilia to see how she would respond. But Cecilia didn’t say anything right away. Then her eyes glazed over. ‘No, Allie,’ she said in a misty voice. ‘We … can’t … help it.’

“George started to snicker, and put on the same monotone. ‘Yes, Allie, we’re … Catholic.’ He started to walk toward Allie, stretching out his hands. ‘You must … join us …’

“The look on Allie Weaver’s face was precious. Her eyes widened until she couldn’t keep the too-cool-for-you look anymore. Gaping at both of them as they closed in on her, she seemed to realize they were joking.

“‘Back! Back!’ she yelled, holding up her fingers to make a cross as though she were warding off a vampire.

“A sinister look crossed Cecilia’s face, and she and kept advancing. ‘No, that won’t work, Allie … we’re Catholic, remember? We love crucifixes …’

“Both girls collapsed in giggles and even George had to laugh, relieved that Cecilia had figured out a way to defuse the situation. He glanced back at James. He wasn’t laughing. He was leaning against a tree, a jealous, hungry look on his face.”

The book includes several scenes that are mildly suggestive, such as a Playboy magazine that appears in a wrestling team locker room, and male-female interplay between Allie and her public school boyfriend, Tyler. The necessity for the repeated use of the words “hot” and “sexy” is questionable. Because of this, I would not consider this book suitable for younger teens.

Overall, the book is well written, with a good mix of the elements of human relationships, action, humor and suspense.

At times, the stereotyping gets in the way of the book’s real message — that Catholicism can be cool and even those remotely acquainted with the faith can become Catholic reluctantly.

Marge Fenelon writes

from Cudahy, Wisconsin.