During my recent three-day trip to the beach, I devoured three books, including Catholic Reluctantly by Christian M. Frank. I received a review copy courtesy of The Catholic Company’s reviewer program. The book is the first installment in the much anticipated John Paul 2 teen fiction series, and it was a quick, enjoyable read.
Although my first love is fiction, I’ve admittedly not read much of the Christian/Catholic genre. Since becoming a mom, however, I want to expose my kids to not only mainstream classics but also to literature that conveys the Truth.
Now granted, my oldest isn’t even 4 yet, but it’s never too early to start stocking your bookshelves with quality fiction that also upholds Christian morality without being sanctimonious, right?
Catholic Reluctantly fits this bill perfectly. The book is targeted at teens (and possibly tweens), but being a decade past my last teen year didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying its compelling characters and suspenseful story line.
Frank weaves unexpected plot twists into his book about a struggling, charter Catholic high school and its diverse group of students. The book is not overly preachy, but it definitely marbles in tenets of the Catholic faith. The book ends with some unresolved issues and some mystery, setting the stage for a great sequel. I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment of the John Paul 2 High School series.
Although the plot was fast-paced, what struck me the most was Frank’s ability to get inside the world of teenagers and to create believable characters with real problems. I know I’m an old, married lady now and that teens probably see me as ancient. It always makes me flinch when a grocery store bagger calls me “ma’am.” They can’t possibly be referring to me. I’m hip. I’m cool. Oh yeah. I have baby drool on my shirt and a preschooler clinging to my legs. No wonder I’m nothing but a dowdy “ma’am” to these spring chickens.
Seriously, sometimes it seems like I was never a teenager. Then, other days I see a sullen teen with slumped shoulders at Mass or an adolescent girl at the mall who looks so uncomfortable in her exaggerated makeup and clothing despite the way she tosses her long hair and offers a beguiling smile to her friends, and I want to say, “It’s okay! I’ve been there! Life gets easier. Really.”
Teenagers look so young to me now, but they also seem vaguely familiar to me like the B-list celebrity you see at the airport. In fact, there are times – like when I was reading Frank’s book – when the mood of the teenage years comes rushing back to me. I can almost conjure up the acute emotions I felt – when I didn’t ace a test or when my latest crush said hi to me in the hallway. I can remember the quiet alienation, how on any given day or even hour I might feel like a child or suddenly feel like a wise, worldly adult (feel being the operative word for the latter since I knew squat).
I suppose it’s good that I can still remember my teenage years and how I sometimes felt. My children will one day be teens and just as I strive to empathize with them now (while still setting boundaries), I hope to do the same down the road. I plan to watch some of the popular teen movies, read their books, learn about texting (or whatever is the latest tech fad when my kids are teens) and listen to their music. It’s just good for parents to know what some of the themes (both good and bad) are out there. And of course, I want to steer my kids in the direction of uplifting media like Catholic Reluctantly.
Sometimes when my preschooler gets sassy with me, I think, “Oh my goodness. How am I going to be able to handle a hormonal teenager when this cheeky 3-year-old is giving me a run for my money?” But then I try to remember that I was once in the midst of adolescent angst. Even though I was a relatively well-adjusted teen (aside from battling an eating disorder), like Frank’s characters, I had my share of insecurities and uncertainties, but I turned out okay and came out on the other side as a happy adult. Chances are, with God’s graces, my kids will fare just as well.
Still, I think I’ll be reading Frank’s book(s) again in a few years as a refresher course in what’s it’s like to have peer pressure, to start dating, to get a pimple (or lots of them), to feel insecure or moody.
I highly recommend Catholic Reluctantly to any parent of teens (or an anal-I-like-to-plan-ahead-parent-of-wee-ones like myself), to teens themselves, as well as to anyone looking for an easy, entertaining read.
To find out more on Catholic Reluctantly, please visit The Catholic Company.