A teen-ager skirts the ragged edge of sanity before--with the help of friends--he finds firmer ground. After his mother's suicide and a succession of foster homes, Max has settled down with his loving uncle Pete and found a part-time job hacking for a professor at the local university. Now Pete is dying of brain cancer, (King describes Pete's physical condition, treatment, and mental deterioration with gut-wrenching vividness.) Max, unable to pay the rent, is living on the street, taking refuge in the computer lab when he can. Faithfully, he sits with Pete for hours each day; but outside the hospital, confused by guilt and despair, he grows increasingly erratic and uncontrolled. Meanwhile, he uncovers an international scheme to pirate computer time (a subplot that allows the author to lecture lucidly on computer networks), but takes hush money rather than blow the whistle. Luckily, Max has some allies, including Luke, a half-crazed but protective homeless man; Buck Jackson, a black nurse, and Buck's daughter Lindy, with whom Max develops a solid relationship; and Uncle Pete, who stubbornly hangs on just long enough to help Max straighten out his life. And Max's fortunes do take a satisfying turn for the better, thanks also to new-found strength of character and some good luck. First-novelist King juggles his multiple themes with some success; there are enough problems here, combined with adventure and romance, to satisfy a diverse readership.