In an apartment complex in suburban Albuquerque, a middle schooler and his older brother watch their father circle the drain and come very close to taking them down with him.
“This will end the war,” says the boys’ father the day they leave Kansas. “No custody. No child support….In New Mexico I’ll be a kid again. We’ll all be kids again." Actually, the day they leave town with their father, having conspired with him to have their mother stripped of parental rights, is the beginning of the end of their childhood. Shortly after they move into their new apartment, the narrator breaks into his father’s locked room when he’s out, hoping to find some change to buy food. Instead, he finds his father—with a metal pipe, a plate of white powder, and a lighter. So thoroughly has this man already twisted his son’s thinking that the boy’s first worry is that he’ll be sent back to live with his mother. But of course he won’t be. “We are all entitled to one bad habit,” explains his father. “You guys have bad habits too. You pop your knuckles, don’t you?” As the man keeps his younger son out of school, sabotages his older son’s basketball career, whips them with the buckle end of his belt for imagined infractions, and leaves them to care for themselves for weeks on end, their allegiance becomes an act of ferocious, misguided heroism. “Sometimes in my mind I was my father. After all, weren’t he and I totally beyond forgiveness?” Joining Tobias Wolff's This Boy’s Life in its brilliant picture of a boyhood twisted by abuse and Justin Torres' We the Animals in both its concision and its portrait of the bond between brothers, Magariel’s debut is sure, stinging, and deeply etched, like the outlines of a tattoo.
Belongs on the short shelf of great books about child abuse.