I don’t remember the young adult genre of books extending beyond Sweet Valley High back when I was the target market for it – it seems to have cropped up since. But then, I was always interested in the harder books, the longer books, the “better” books… (This is how I happened to read The Shining in seventh grade, I’m sure.)

But it would be too bad to be a young person and miss out on Catholic, Reluctantly, by Christian M. Frank (it’s Book 1 of the John Paul 2 High series). I received a review copy courtesy of The Catholic Company’s reviewer program, and I was surprised to see a 300-page book in the envelope. (Guess young adult still equals short and easy to me…)

I was not so surprised to find it was an excellent – and gripping – read. Lisa Hendey interviewed Regina Doman (the editor of the John Paul 2 High series) a while back on the Catholic Moments podcast, and she loved this book. She made me curious, and I was excited to see it in my review choices.

I’m pretty sure Frank nails the high school and teenage mentality…but not in a way that’s condescending. (Then again, I’m not in high school – consider that a disclaimer!)

I particularly enjoyed how Catholic, Reluctantly explored relationships – between teen girls, between teen boys, between the genders, and between teens and adults. At some points, I felt like I was back in high school – and it wasn’t the glorified false “time of your life” experience either. It wasn’t about sex and great hair and dances – it was about real-life struggles to determine what’s important in life.

My favorite aspect of this book was the fact that, despite having “Catholic” in its title, this book would be great for ANY teen or young adult. There’s no “secret Catholic stuff” included – you don’t have to be a Catholic or even understand anything about the Catholic Church to enjoy this book. One of the main characters isn’t a practicing Catholic and isn’t very familiar with things Catholic, and when the kids at her new school mention things – such as the Divine Mercy Chaplet – she doesn’t understand. And though she does sometimes feel like an idiot, we readers get a natural explanation (and a reminder of just how hard it is to be a teen, and to feel like you don’t fit in) that’s not ponderous or overly cerebral.

This book reads so well, I whipped through it in a day (and I wasn’t holed up with a bunch of free time without my youngsters either!).

Worth noting is Imagio’s statement in the back of the book – “Imagio Catholic Fiction seeks to counter the despair, cynicism, and amorality of today’s youth fiction with stories for young readers that feed faith and build virtue.” They continue, “Our books are not disguised sermons but compelling stories told in a contemporary voice.”

Fiction is my first love. Oh, I devour plenty of non-fiction, but to read a great novel is divine in my world. A story can make a point, so often, in ways that the facts alone just can’t.

So I’ll be waiting eagerly for the next book in this series, as well as sharing this book with those teens in my life.