A thought-provoking first novel about freshman year in a strict Catholic high school in Maine in the early 60's. James Marchuk, a lover of baseball and gangster books, has ""never done anything bad"" but gets into trouble because the knot in his tie is too low. His rigid, oppressive mother wants James to obey the letter of the law at school and home; his father's empathy is silent, James is driven to ""lie to protect his freedom."" He and best friend Will go to the Laugh Palace and see Brother John, their assistant principal, coming out of the back room ""that is loaded with dirty stuff."" James decides to begin telling the truth after he sprains his ankle. In school assembly, Father Malachi hits James for a minor infraction, then lies and tells his parents that James has hit him. James wants to enroll in public school. His mother, furious and disappointed, leaves the decision to him. The conclusion is dark and ambivalent: Will James bow to his mother and apologize for something he didn't do to stay with his friends, or suffer his parents' disapprobation in order to keep his own spiritual freedom and tell the truth? James' world is reminiscent of Cormier's Chocolate War, though much less well drawn; the mother especially is a one-dimensional exaggeration. However, the complex moral dilemma is well posed and should provoke discussion.