Nate, 14, comes home to his family's Montana farm one day to see police cars. His father, whose head is bloodied from a gunshot wound, is taken away in an ambulance. He and his 7-year-old sister are whisked into the house and cared for by an aunt until their mother, shocked and withdrawn, returns home. In the weeks following Nate finds it hard to get any adults to level with him about what happened, though he overhears conversations that make it fairly clear it was a suicide attempt. The kids at school withdraw from him and his sister; parents in the area tell their children not to play with them, as they always suspected there was something strange about the family. Only one girl, herself something of an outcast because of her father's aggressive fundamentalist preaching, befriends him, and becomes his partner in a science project.

Nate throws his energies into the project--creating a cloud chamber in which radiation from distant stars can be seen--and into pitching for the baseball team. Both are enterprises his father would have helped him with. His father, a dreamer and scientific visionary, is in a mental hospital, recovering. The police fail to find the rifle, but Nate and two friends do find it, and so exonerate his mother, who has been under suspicion in the inconclusive case.

After the contest, in which a disgruntled student sabotages what is actually a remarkably successful and well-made project, he takes Junie and the family car and drives several hours to find his father who, it turns out, is lucid and recovering, but blind. Their mother is selling the farm, they are about to move, but there is hope of some recovery on all sides, though not what any of them would have foreseen or chosen.


For such bleak material, the book maintains a surprisingly compelling pace and varied focus. The characters, especially Nate and his new friend, Naomi, are well-developed. Nate's grief emerges as impatience with the adults who tell him little about his father's circumstances and in determination to perform well in ways his father has always encouraged--in scientific curiosity and in baseball. The predicament of a fourteen-year-old forced to cope with sudden loss and uncertainty, and to face complicated economic realities of farm life and his father's failures as a farmer, is sensitively rendered. The cruelty of those who protect themselves from others' pain and shame is probably the most painful part of the book, but realistic. A few incidental grammatical infelicities are unfortunate, but on the whole the book offers a thought-provoking story about strategies of survival.


Simon & Schuster

Place Published

New York



Page Count