The thick wall an abused teenager builds between himself and the world is penetrated at last by an extraordinary pair of friends. Though a brilliant student, Smitty Tibbs never speaks, never responds, never even makes eye contact. When Caulder, Smitty's loyal defender since childhood, persuades new neighbor and classmate Ginny to meet him, she is at once disturbed and fascinated by his strangeness. After she gains a small but definite reaction from him, Caulder excitedly throws them together, hoping to break the ice at last. Ginny is only partially willing to go along, knowing that she and Caulder might be biting off more than they can chew. Drawing Smitty out becomes painful for all concerned -- especially after he finds the will to seek professional help and confesses that his older brother Russell subjected him to years of clever persecution, invisible to all but the two brothers. Smitty's slow, agonizing recovery is convincingly handled (Russell's final unmasking, less so), but the real strength of this book lies in the complex, sensitively drawn relationships; when Ginny marvels at the intricate, seemingly effortless way she and her family (and a rare and marvelous family it is, too) and friends interact, readers will certainly marvel with her -- and will be left with a better appreciation for the richness of their own social and emotional landscapes. A strong book with healing at the end, memorable for its spirited friendships and unpreachy soul-searching.