cover image ST. MICHAEL'S SCALES


Neil O. Connelly, . . Scholastic/Levine, $16.95 (309pp) ISBN 978-0-439-19445-7

Connelly's sophisticated first novel follows a teen consumed by guilt for the death of his twin, who died as an infant. Keegan plans to die the day before turning 16. He believes this will allow his twin, Michael, to return and repair their dysfunctional family. Set mostly in his "falling apart" Catholic high school with its "Wrong-Hearted Jesus" (a life-size statue of Jesus with his heart in the wrong place) and strange basement gym, Keegan's journey gets more complicated when he begins blaming himself for not helping his institutionalized mother. As penance, he joins the wrestling team, where he finds community, especially with Nicky Carpelli, who starves himself to wrestle at 105 pounds. Keegan worries that if he follows through with his plan to kill himself, he won't get to heaven, especially since he has no good deeds to put on the scale St. Michael will use to weigh his soul. Wrestling provides a good parallel—both the weighing-in ritual and the inherent struggle. Keegan's memories of his family shoveling snow together or a lonely scene at home with his unavailable father and takeout pizza shed light on the depth of pain the boy and his family have internalized. While Keegan's ever-morphing delusions may be challenging to follow at times, the Catholic iconography and childhood flashbacks he intertwines with his narration, plus the surreal events, characters and setting, will likely draw readers into his world. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)