By Anna Jarzab
Available now from Delacorte (Random House)
Anna Jarzab's sophomore novel is a contemporary that doesn't resemble most of the others I've been reading lately. For one thing, the romantic plotline isn't the focus. Protagonist Caro Mitchell's relationship with her sister and her parents is much more important to the story. But it's also about Caro and her relationship to herself, who she wants to be and what she believes.
Caro isn't always the most likeable character. She lies, a lot, and like most habitual liars she does it for stupid reasons. She can also be very self centered. But inside her head it's easy to see how confused she is and how she can barely articulate why she doesn't want to talk to people about the reality of her sister. THE OPPOSITE OF HALLELUJAH kicks off when Caro's much older sister Hannah, now in her late twenties, returns home from the convent where she failed as a novitiate. Caro barely knows her sister and doesn't know how to relate to someone who is quite a bit older, obviously in some kind of pain, and whom she's expected to immediately treat like a close relative. I did like how Hannah's story trickled out in bits and pieces.
Caro's parents were intriguing characters. Few young adult novels really bring the parents to the forefront like THE OPPOSITE OF HALLELUJAH. I thought they were weirdly strict at first, although they seemed somewhat more mellow by the end of the novel. But they were realistic parents, making mistakes but trying to do their best for their daughter.
Although it's nice to read a book that isn't all about the romance, I could've used more Pawel. He's the new kid in school and exactly who Caro needs in her life after a bad break up. He's a great guy who isn't afraid to call Caro out on her behavior when she treats him badly. The final important character is Father Bob, the priest Caro likes to talk to despite her personal lack of religion. Religion is one of the themes of THE OPPOSITE OF HALLELUJAH, and Bob and Caro's conversations are very interesting. (Readers need not be afraid of being preached at.)
THE OPPOSITE OF HALLELUJAH is a wonderful novel that stands out nicely from the crowd. It made me want to track down Jarzab's first novel, ALL UNQUIET THINGS. THE OPPOSITE OF HALLELUJAH is an intelligent coming-of-age novel that will appeal to lovers of character-driven stories.