From an outstandingly perceptive writer, a moving portrait of a boy of extraordinary intelligence and sensitivity, observed at four revealing turning points. Just out of first grade, Asa rushes triumphantly home to share the splendid radishes he has grown, but finds his parents breaking up and his mother taking him to meet antagonistic, inflexible Dave, soon to be his stepfather. Later, Asa's quick comprehension of what makes people tick, plus his well-honed manipulative skills, earn him easy acceptance in a new fourth grade but a painfully aborted relationship in seventh. Meanwhile, Dave is an unexpectedly talented coach for the sports in which Asa excels--until, overcome by his normal malice, he knocks Asa down with a hard-thrown baseball. The two also become unwilling collaborators in dealing with Asa's deeply disturbed mother. Dave--who resembles Bix's dad in The Moves Make the Man (Brooks's first, and until now best, book)--accuses Asa of being all head and no heart, but Brooks develops the subtle relationships between the two--Asa does often hide behind rationalism but also, twice, retreats compassionately from hard-won goals in order to avoid hurting a peer. A brilliant demonstration that childhood's battles are less important than what one brings to them: Bix was defined by family conflict, but Asa--possessed of a rare sweetness, humor, and inner strength--survives intact the cruel tests to his integrity, intellect, and sense of decency.