Friday, November 16, 2012

The Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab

The Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab is realistic YA fiction. I'm a little more picky about what I read in that genre, since much of it is so bleak. However, I thought this book was quite well done.

Caro feels like she hardly knows her sister Hannah. For more than half of Caro's life, Hannah has been part of an order of contemplative nuns. How do you explain to your peers that your beautiful older sister is sequestered in a strict convent, that you only see her for a short time once a year? Hannah might as well be dead, Caro reasoned when she was younger (though she got in a lot of trouble at home for telling her school friends that story). Then, one day, Hannah comes home. And if Caro thought that explaining her sister's life at the convent was difficult, she finds it even more difficult to explain Hannah's sudden, unexpected return. As Caro tries to understand her sister -- who is still emotionally distant and obviously unhappy -- she uncovers a secret from the past that might explain both why Hannah left, and why she came back. But will Caro do her sister more harm than good in her attempts to help Hannah deal with the ghosts of the past?

There's more to the story, of course: a helping of boyfriend drama, a scientist priest who helps Caro with her own questions about God and the universe, and an ambitious science fair project all play into the plot of this book. I was drawn to the story because I wanted to see how religion was handled, and I am impressed at what I found. While Caro is not particularly religious herself, and has some hostility toward the church, there's an underlying respect for religion infused into the bones of the story. Despite Hannah's situation, Christianity is not the bad guy of the piece, and Caro's questions feel as genuine as her animosity. I'm glad I came across this book, and would recommend it to readers who are intrigued, as I was, by its premise.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

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