Until their father abandoned the family and moved to California, Toby Malone, his older brother, Jake, and his younger brother Eli have a close, easy relationship with each other and their parents.  After his departure, and their move into a small condo, Jake begins to associate with drug users and dealers.  He becomes secretive, his behavior becomes erratic, and Toby, from whose point of view the story is told, is torn between loyalty to Jake and guilt at keeping secrets from his mother, who, coping with her own losses, is preoccupied and somewhat depressed.

For a while Toby runs interference, finding ways to care for his younger brother, mask the trouble from his mother, and cover Jake's tracks.  His own stability is preserved in part by a comfortable, cordial relationship with an older man in whose store he helps, and who helps him find baseball cards he treasures.  Finally, when Jake is apprehended and sentenced to rehab, Toby is relieved of his conflict and able to enter into a more authentic relationship with all his family members.  This new stage includes releasing pointless fantasies about his father's coming back and rescuing the family from their troubles.


The story is told with frankness, gentle humor, and sympathy for all the characters.  None of them is competent to handle the trauma of abandonment alone.  Without undue didacticism, the writer enables the reader to imagine each person’s behavior as a way of coping—Jake’s, in particular, inappropriate but understandable.  A helpful story for exploring mutual responsibility within families, the consequences of secrecy, and the ways family systems shift in response to loss and trauma.  Toby’s point of view is rendered with insight and a complexity that fully recognizes the competing claims on a preadolescent faced too early with adult decisions and discernments. 



Place Published

New York



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