Book Review: Catholic, Reluctantly

I apologize if this should go in the Book Club section, and I hope the Moderators will move it if that is where book reviews go. But I’m not quite sure what the purpose of the Book Club is. I KNOW that the Media Section is the place where people will check out applications of various media to their Catholic faith.

I just finished reading Catholic, Reluctantly by Christian M. Frank. Imagio Catholic Fiction from Sophia Institute Press. The target audience is teens. The book is Book One of the John Paul 2 High series.

I am not a teen. I’m 51/F. I read the book because I also write fiction for teens, and wanted to read a “Catholic” teen novel to compare my novels. I also happen to enjoy teen fiction because I like teenagers.

I recommend the book to teenagers and their parents.

The story is about a new Catholic high school, John Paul II High, that forms when an existing Catholic high school becomes too liberal. Only seven students attend JP2.

One of the students, Allie, has been pulled by her mother from a public school because someone pulled a gun on her at school. That’s one of the mysteries in the book.

The other mystery involves attacks of vandalism on JP2 High. Is someone trying to close the school down? Why?

The students are an interesting mix. Along with Allie, we meet a black former home-schooled student, a State-level wrestler, a rather creepy fat guy, the saintly and sweet daughter of the principal (Miss Super Catholic!), a “class clown” that everyone suspects is doing the vandalism, and a flip-flopper who is more interested in keeping a boyfriend than being Catholic.

I personally enjoyed the characters very much. My daughters attended a very small high school (30 kids in the class), so I wasn’t put off by the small size of JP2 High.

The students were a little unrealistic at times, but hey, I don’t want to read too much real life when I read a novel. I WANT bigger than life! Again, I found that the kids in my daughters’ small school were very similiar to the kids at JP2 High.

I really enjoyed the wrestling plotline in the book. I know nothing about high school wrestling, but obviously the author does, and I learned a lot and felt like a real expert when I finished the novel!

I also enjoyed the faculty of JP2 High. Only three teachers, but one was actually not very good. I would complain about her if I was a mother of a JP2 High student. But the novel would have been a fairy tale if all the teachers were perfect and never said or did anything stupid or mean.

The book was a page-turner. The chapters ended at suspenseful points, and I often read on just to see what happened next. It was a good story.

But I have to admit that I didn’t care for the ending. I won’t spoil it. I felt that there was more that could have been done with the ending. Everything stopped too abruptly.
There were some plotlines that didn’t get resolved fully, and I wasn’t satisfied or pumping my fist in the air and shouting, “Yes, YES!”

Perhaps the author was afraid of writing a “Scooby Doo” mystery in which the villain mumbles, “I would have succeeded if it hadn’t been for those pesky KIDS!”

Well, there’s a reason why Scooby Doo is so popular! The stories hold together and the endings do make sense. I think that the story in Catholic, Reluctantly could have been resolved without resorting to “Scooby Doo” techniques. Again, I won’t spoil it by going into details, but I can think of at least two endings that would have been exciting, tied all the loose ends together, and left us sighing with relief.

Another possibility is that the author was trying so hard to teach the Catholic doctrine in the last chapter that they relegated the resolution of the plot to second place. I’m very glad to see such strong teachings, but again, I think we could have had both strong Catholic teachings AND a great ending in this novel.

One more possibility is that the plot will be continued in Book 2. I really don’t think this was necessary, but perhaps the author has bigger plans in mind and will reveal them little by little in the series. I’m willing to go along with that.

I do plan on ordering the next book in the series. I think that the novels are definitely worth reading and provide a lot of discussion material for teens.

This is NOT fine literature, BTW. Don’t expect Chronicles of Narnia or Pulitzer Prize winning style and technique! It’s teen fiction. A straightforward story with teen characters, language, and teachings. In many places, it reminded me of my own teen novels, so I guess I’m on the same track as Christian M. Frank!

It is WONDERFUL to see something like this novel! Sometimes on this forum, I see people recommending books for teenagers that even an ADULT would find heavy! Yes, we should strive to read more good literature, but there are a lot of times when we just want to curl up in an armchair and lose ourselves in a nice simple story with characters that don’t kill dragons or walk through walls, but instead, just live a life much like ours.

I wish that there were whole catalogs of Catholic popular fiction like Catholic, Reluctantly. If you visit a Protestant bookstore or read one of their book catalogs, you will see literally hundreds of titles of popular fiction, mainly mysteries, romances, and thrillers. Why are Catholics holding back and clinging to Bibles, catechisms, biographies of saints, and other “safe” material instead of letting the imagination go and creating all kinds of exciting fiction stories for all ages, not just teenagers? I believe that more fiction novels like this would really be helpful for Catholic teenagers who are questioning their Church and their faith, and also very encouraging for Catholic teenagers who are committed to their Church and their faith. .

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