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A Theory of Expanded Love by Caitlin Hicks
Publisher: Light Messages Publishing
Publication Date: June 12, 2015
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
TBT Review Date: June 12, 2015
Publisher's DescriptionTrapped in her enormous, devout Catholic family in 1963, Annie creates a hilarious campaign of lies when the pope dies and their family friend, Cardinal Stefanucci, is unexpectedly on the short list to be elected the first American pope. Driven to elevate her family to the holiest of holy rollers in the parish, Annie is tortured by her own dishonesty. But when "The Hands" visit her in her bed and when her sister finds herself facing a scandal, Annie discovers her parents will do almost anything to
uphold their reputation and keep their secrets safe. Questioning all she has believed and torn between her own gut instinct and years of Catholic guilt, Annie takes courageous risks to wrest salvation from the tragic sequence of events set in motion by her parents’ betrayal.
I received a complimentary copy of A Theory of Expanded Love in exchange for my honest review. All opinions shared are 100% my own.
I grew up in a bad Catholic family in a very Catholic neighborhood. "Bad" because there were only two kids - ten years apart. My parents had even set out only to have two kids, only they had wanted two close together. I had other ideas and arrived ten years after my sister. Marie was born in 1961 and I was born in 1971 so we are both a bit behind the age and time of Annie, but many of her experiences rang true.
Annie is #6 out of thirteen children in a large, strict Catholic family. The author continues to number the kids for the first part of the book and it helps in keeping track of who is who. Her father is authoritarian, recently retired from the Navy, and her mother seems almost mentally absent from the kids for much of the book - or at least from Annie. Annie is portrayed as her father's favorite and her sister, Jeannie (#7), as her mother's.
Annie is twelve going on thirteen. As the veil of childhood is pulled back from Annie's eyes, she starts developing a critical, self-thinking view of the world. This doesn't go well with the strict Catholic upbringing her father is so much trying to inflict on his children. The father brags to everyone about his large family and prides himself on being one of the best Catholic families at St. Andrews, but then he also criticizes the kids that he was held back from promotions and doesn't have a life of luxury because of them. This is an emotionally, and sometimes, physically, abusive man. But despite all his attempts at tight control, his kids are growing up and making their own choices. He betrays his children at many turns to preserve his reputation over what is best for his family. As Annie sees these betrayals, especially to her sister Clara and to Annie herself, her eyes are opened to the hypocrisy.
Abuse is a central theme in this book. There is emotional abuse, physical abuse and mild sexual abuse ("The Hands"). There is only one very vivid scene when the father is using a leather belt on Annie's hand at the dinner table in front of the whole family. I tend to be sensitive about scenes of abuse in books but I was not bothered by anything in this novel.
I think anyone from a big Catholic family (or any big family) could commiserate and feel compassion for Annie and her plight. It also provides an interesting window into the life of a big family and a Catholic family for anyone from neither. While the main character is a 12 year old girl, I think the ideal reading age is a little older than that. It didn't read as a middle grade novel at all. Times have certainly changes since the 1960s and it is very evident in this book. It definitely makes the case for the world being a much better place today than in 1963 so I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone nostalgic about a bygone era. The author does not paint a rosy tale. It is a great Coming of Age story about Annie and I really enjoyed it.