What begins as a portrait of a high-school drop-out is transformed into a fascinating study of the human spirit in this latest and mesmerizing novel by Cadnum (Zero at the Bone, 1996, etc.). With his parents divorced and his best friend, Perry, moved away, Zachary seems content to spend his days delivering hot tubs and his nights bloodying his fists in Oakland brawls. But when his father is critically injured during a carjacking, Zachary's life changes. While he watches his mother and his father's new wife grudgingly achieve a truce, Zachary is left to grieve over his father's fate: Will he ever be able to speak or walk again? Cadnum conveys an intimate and authentic sense of the pain Zachary feels over his father's paralysis, and what could have descended into banal sentimentality is explored with grace and sincerity. Zachary, a realistically complex protagonist, may be a ""high-school drop-out,"" but his sense of humor is quick and adult, his understanding of his high-strung mother comprehensive as well as responsive; and, to his surprise, his loyalty to a distant but amiable patriarch knows no limit. When his father's assailant escapes legal punishment, Zachary acts out of his own rage-filled past and considers retribution, and readers will forget to draw breath until he makes his final decision. This haunting, life-affirming novel further burnishes Cadnum's reputation as an outstanding novelist.