I picked up my latest read, The Opposite of Hallelujah, because it’s nominated for the 14-15 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award. (My book club chose to read these nominees for our April meeting.) Judging by the book jacket, I expected sort of a psychological thriller, kind of in the same vein as Dead to You by Lisa McMann. Older sister returns after eight years away, and little sister has trouble adjusting? Yeah, my mind immediately goes to “Are we sure that’s really her sister?” That notion was disabused fairly quickly, but I still enjoyed the book, and it was, at times, quite the emotional roller coaster.
For the past eight years, Caro Mitchell has, for all intents and purposes, been an only child. Her older sister, Hannah left home to become a nun when Caro was just eight years old, and Caro has barely seen her sister since. Things, however, are about to change. Hannah, now twenty-seven, is coming home.
Caro is not pleased with the abrupt change in her life, and, like a typical sixteen-year-old, she lets everyone know it. She doesn’t know how to handle having Hannah home, and she’s unsure what she should tell her friends about this sister she’s never mentioned before. So, she does what a lot of teenagers would do…she lies. Eventually, Caro’s lies do catch up with her, endangering her relationships with her boyfriend, her friends, her parents, and her sister…who is battling issues that Caro is growing desperate to understand.
No one is quite sure why Hannah left the convent, why she refuses to eat, why she can’t sleep, or why she can’t seem to move on with her life, but Caro, after dealing with her own issues, wants to help her sister. She wants to find out why Hannah is so depressed and what can possibly be done to help her. In the process, Caro will come face-to-face with a long-buried secret, a secret that could explain so much about the sister that Caro barely knows.
As Caro learns more and more about her sister, she’s also forced to examine herself. She takes a long, hard look at her relationships with those closest to her, why she chose to lie about her sister, and, ultimately, her faith in God. Caro is forced to come to some unpleasant truths about herself, but those lessons may just bring her closer to everyone she loves…including Hannah.
I must say that I liked The Opposite of Hallelujah more than I thought I would. When I first started reading–and I figured out that it wasn’t the thriller I had hoped it would be–I was disappointed, and I did put the book down after reading about 100 pages. Yesterday, though, I picked the book up at about 10am, and I didn’t put it back down again until I was finished…350 pages later. I devoured it, and I think many other readers, particularly those who may struggle with their faith, will have a similar experience.
Although I did end up enjoying this book, I have to confess something. I didn’t like most of the characters. Caro was kind of a brat through most of the book, only redeeming herself near the very end. I thought her parents were too hard on her at times, and I wanted Hannah to just snap out of it. (I know this is a familiar sentiment expressed toward depressed people. I’ve heard it often enough myself.) And even though I know it’s fairly common with some teens, I was kind of disturbed by how often Caro snuck out of the house, went to parties, and got drunk with her friends. (I didn’t have a drop of alcohol until I was well out of high school, so this was kind of foreign to me. And yes, I was a goody-two-shoes. I make no apologies.) I did like Caro’s boyfriend, Pawel, but even he disappointed me on occasion.
There was one major thing I definitely liked about Caro. I respected how driven and intelligent Caro was, and I appreciated that she didn’t try to dumb herself down…especially around guys. She was a good student, she excelled in science and math, and she owned it. Good for her.
I’ve only read one other nominee for next year’s SCYABA, I Hunt Killers, so I can’t say yet how this one stacks up with the rest of the list. I will say, though, that The Opposite of Hallelujah is a great read that will resonate with many readers. Anyone who’s ever had problems with parents, siblings, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, religion, fitting in, or owning up to bad decisions will find something to relate to in this book. Read it!