Fred and Mara are dancing at the Junior Prom when she discovers the lump on his neck; barging into the boys' room to find a mirror, he is embroiled in a vicious scene: the school dope dealer is injecting the football team. Lipsyte moves from this gripping opener into Fred's anguished battle with a virulent cancer and seriocomic encounters with other teenage patients, related in a rare blend of sensitivity, boisterous humor, and wry awareness of various political undercurrents. Then the book changes gears. At first, there are alternate explanations for wimpy Fred's sudden extraordinary feats, but by the time he bends down a chain-link fence at the mysterious plant that's polluting the local reservoir while he's on an investigative mission with Mara (a committed environmental activist), it's clear that Fred is a genuine chemo-induced superhero. Lipsyte weaves a lot together with considerable skill; Fred has two friends, representing scientific and verbal prowess, with whom he used to play a computer game: Fred was ""Ranger,"" hero with a conscience, who always died, and they are now reenacting the old game--with a difference. A dishonest coach and mayor, a gruff but honest cop, and a wise buffoon of a doctor--all play thematic roles. Unfortunately, the somber tone of the book's first half is at odds with its concluding fantastical high-jinks, during which some of the more serious ideas are simply abandoned. Still, the end is rousing good fun, and there's much to ponder along the way.