Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab

The Opposite of HallelujahThe Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Plot Summary from Goodreads: Caro Mitchell considers herself an only child—and she likes it that way. After all, her much older sister, Hannah, left home eight years ago, and Caro barely remembers her. So when Caro’s parents drop the bombshell news that Hannah is returning to live with them, Caro feels as if an interloper is crashing her family. To her, Hannah’s a total stranger, someone who haunts their home with her meek and withdrawn presence, and who refuses to talk about her life and why she went away. Caro can’t understand why her parents cut her sister so much slack, and why they’re not pushing for answers.

Unable to understand Hannah, Caro resorts to telling lies about her mysterious reappearance. But when those lies alienate Caro’s new boyfriend and put her on the outs with her friends and her parents, she seeks solace from an unexpected source. And when she unearths a clue about Hannah’s past—one that could save Hannah from the dark secret that possesses her. Caro begins to see her sister in a whole new light.

Admittedly, when I started this novel I wasn't a fan. Carolina - the protagonist - screamed "quintessential grouchy teenager." I hated her. I even told some of my students that "the struggle was real" to get through this. But, in the end, I was wrong. Carolina isn't abnormal in her behavior; in fact, she's spot on.

Jarzab has created a witty, sharp tongued female lead that is struggling with the sudden return of her sister, Hannah. Hannah left at nineteen to become a nun at Sisters of Grace. Her family grappled with this decision, and will continue to remain in the dark about her choice to leave the convent. Except Caro. She, through a series of truly wrong turns, finally understands and appreciates the struggles of her older sister (not to mention uncovers the true reasons for her pious choice) and makes it her plight to help her. But in helping her, Caro also helps herself to become a stronger, more confident, more focused young person. I like the message this sends - focus on someone else's needs sometimes to truly benefit the soul.

Of course no YA novel is complete without some love-story-drama, but Jarzab handles this nicely. The romance that Caro finds herself involved in blooms from friendship (well, first from lust, then from lessons, and then from friendship - but teens always have to try everything the hard way). I thought the overall context of the relationship presented was nicely done and I really liked Pavel, Caro's main squeeze; most of the time.

Overall, the novel paints a solid picture about what it takes to truly be there for someone else; and how allowing God to speak through you brings about the change you want to see in the world.

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