Confused by conflicting messages from family and church, a young girl takes big issues of life, love, and trust into her own hands.
It is 1963, and American Catholics are stirred. First, by the death of the pope, and later, the assassination of the first Catholic president. Preteen Annie Shea, one of eleven children in a devout Catholic family, is the narrator. Because her father, a soon-to-retire Naval officer, once had a chance encounter with a priest who is now a cardinal, Annie sees her parents shamelessly promoting themselves in the community and church as friends of the possible next pope.
As we begin to live among the Sheas, we see a passive, harried mother who suffers in secret from the early loss of a baby and a well-meaning father who is tyrannical in pursuit of prestige, trying to control his unruly brood with strict moral injunctions backed up by a belt. But his rules can’t stop Annie from wondering: why is it a sin to lie, except about the family’s supposed connection to the papacy? Why can’t she talk to someone about a family member creeping into her bedroom and feeling her up?
Worst of all, in a religious culture where babies are so wanted and life so precious, why is her older sister consigned to a convent to “repent” and, Annie learns, have a baby that will be taken away for adoption before anyone in the family even looks at it? Annie’s sudden bold rebellion may tear the family apart—or bring it together in ways never envisioned.
Canadian author Caitlin Hicks is a playwright and actress who has crafted this coming-of-age novel like a series of episodes in a fast-developing family television drama. Annie is a likable, gutsy girl stuck in the contrast between what she knows in her heart to be right and what she is being told by various patriarchs—dad, priest, and pope.
Authentic, amusing, wise beyond her years, Hicks’ heroine marches forth like a modern Maid of Orleans to remind others of their true moral duty. Hicks composes with confidence and competence, deftly manipulating the modalities of the fateful events of 1963 to reveal the Sheas as a sort of “every family,” with strong bonds of caring and some notable fault lines.
A Theory of Expanded Love is a teen’s-eye view of what happens when doctrine threatens to outweigh compassion, and how balance can be restored with a few bold moves.