In Rahlf’s (The Path, 2005) second novel, an academically gifted young man must complete his senior year in a diverse Chicago public school after his beloved, private Catholic academy is forced to close.
Thomas Clarke is a pious, hardworking student of prodigious gifts. A star in the classroom and on the football field, he’s more prone to quoting Virgil and the Bible than engaging in more common forms of teenage communication. However, he’s liked and respected by his classmates for his humility and good nature. The recession affects his family’s and his church’s finances, requiring that he leave the rarefied environment of his parochial school and enter the less-refined environment of public education. Although he’s placed in the public school’s AP honors class, he still must contend with people whom he feels are his moral inferiors. He finds a kindred spirit in Marie, who’s attended public school since her father’s tragic death. The two support each other as their fellow students act out in ways, such as bullying,that show resentment or poor character. The author’s erudition in matters of Catholic theology and philosophy informs the novel. For example, Marie believes, like Thomas, that emotional pain isn’t such a bad thing: “Because our society is so full of pride and vanity, I believe those who understand the value of suffering and who are able to suffer should do so to the greatest extent possible,” she says. However, this meandering novel does depict some stereotypical characters, including two overweight Jewish men who trade cartoonish dialogue (“Ach, don’t be a kvetsh”), without including any insight into them. Also, a long-winded religious diatribe against homosexuality, in the guise of a mock debate, is likely to offend many readers.
An artless attempt to highlight traditional Catholic teachings among teenagers in contemporary Chicago.