An unusually honest and forceful novel, told in trenchant language by a variety of people concerned with thirteen year-old Benjie, who won't admit that he's hooked but steals his stepfather's overcoat for a fix upon return from the ""detox"" hospital. Benjie's own swaggering version of his story is moving and often funny but not particularly introspective; his mother does her loving but overwhelmed best to help him, and his former friend Jimmy Lee is just as helpless: ""Me and Benjie use to be tight. He was my boon. . . Friendship begin to split when one is caught in the habit and the other not."" Then there are his teachers, ambivalent white Bernard Cohen and militant black Nigeria Greene, who agree only on reporting Benjie (who observes that the two have got ""so close they can piss through a straw together"" and concludes, ""never trust a jive-ass nigga in a bespoke suit, specially one wearin' a nationalist button""). Most important though is Benjie's stepfather Butler Craig, who despite the cynical title, a quote from Benjie, is close enough to a hero even if he does make the claim himself. Butler, who gave up his saxaphone and now works as a janitor to support his common law wife, her mother, and her son -- ""and can't claim any of them for tax deduction"" -- saves the boy's life in a dramatic rooftop chase that he begins in rage but ends in desperate commitment to his ""son."" After Butler consistently demonstrates his faith in the boy things seem to get better, but Childress -- who demonstrates her faith in her readers by letting each conflicted character speak eloquently for himself -- rejects the improbable happy ending for which closing events seem to have been preparing us: the novel ends in uncertainty with Butler waiting outside the rehab center for an inexplicably overdue Benjie. . . .