The protagonist in this engaging novel has an unusual number of problems to contend with. Sixteen-year-old Charlie's parents are out of the picture: His father left the family and his mother drank herself to death. He lives in a poor neighborhood with his levelheaded older brother, Trent, who supports them. He has no friends until Brandon, a class leader, gets to know him while both are punished at school, and invites him to take a ride in his sleek, silver Corvette. They hit it off, but Charlie is uncomfortable; other than Trent, he has kept everyone at bay, lonely but afraid to care about anyone. When Brandon professes his friendship, Charlie is confident enough to tell him that Trent is gay--not exactly a secret, but the brothers have been discreet with the information. Brandon reacts surprisingly badly, and Charlie vows to distance himself further from people so he ""won't get dragged down"" and hurt by them. A climactic fight at school brings the boys together again. Charlie's voice is a little familiar, with first-person, Salinger-like speech patterns, and fairly predictable events; there is swearing and casual, unprotected sex. But Charlie's tale becomes compelling because he is a character to care for, and the novel articulates with appreciable clarity the emotional risks of opening up to others.