The Opposite of Hallelujah, by Anna Jarzab

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Even if I disliked Anna Jarzab's new novel The Opposite of Hallelujah (and I didn't; I loved it), I would still give it full points for originality. This book is a rare beast—a YA story about faith, honesty, and family that manages to be thought-provoking rather than preachy.

16-year-old Caro Mitchell has spent half her life acting like an only child. She has a much-older sister, Hannah, but Hannah joined a convent eight years ago and Caro has barely spoken to her since. So when Caro's parents announce that Hannah is returning home, Caro is anything but pleased. Hannah is quiet and withdrawn, and Caro can't understand why her parents keep handling her sister with kid gloves, carefully avoiding any of the questions Caro wants answered: why did Hannah join the convent? Why did she leave it? And why does she seem so unhappy?

Caro is frequently unlikeable, but she always feels like a real person. Even when she screws up (which happens often), she does so in ways that make sense. She can't understand her sister's choices, so she lies about them—but the lies she tells are more comprehensible than the truth. If I wanted to quibble, I could argue that Caro is more articulate than most teenagers, but Jarzab thoroughly establishes her considerable intelligence, so I'm letting it slide. Plus, Caro's mental and verbal agility leads to exchanges like this one, which fully warmed the cockles of my heart:

“You don't believe in soul mates?” He seemed surprised.

“I don't just not believe, I object,” I said forcefully.

“Why?” He shook his head in disbelief. “You sound so offended.”

“I am offended! The very idea of soul mates is offensive.”

He settled back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. “This should be good.”

“The concept of one true soul mate is tied up in the idea of predestination,” I said. It was like he'd pushed a trigger; I wanted to just shut my mouth already, but I couldn't. “The idea that basically your life is completely mapped out, from birth to death, and there is no possibility for deviation. Choice doesn't matter. I know some people find the idea of soul mates romantic, or comforting, but to me believing in soul mates means absolving yourself of any responsibility for your own happiness. If a relationship doesn't work out—whoops! It wasn't meant to be. Fuck meant to be.” It was a speech I'd given before.
I mean, can you imagine a Twilight character saying something like that? I can't tell you how delightful it was to read a book that features such a thoughtful heroine, and—while it does feature a lovely romantic subplot—allows her the space to wrestle with more interesting questions than who to go to prom with, or which (generally undead) suitor to choose. Caro's family isn't “fixed” by the end of The Opposite of Hallelujah, but her growth over the course of the novel left me feeling like there were few problems too complicated for this intelligent and open-minded young woman to resolve.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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