The trials of a good-hearted but troubled teenager in Pennsylvania provide the focus for Harrar’s debut as he details the way one family-shattering tragedy leads inexorably to another. The trigger to everything that transpires in the story is a car accident ten years before: Jake’s mother was killed when his father swerved to avoid running over a squirrel. In the years that followed, Jake watched his dad—a college philosophy major—turned Vietnam vet—turned animal rights’ activist—become even more eccentric and unstable while, with added pressure from his father’s unsympathetic live-in girlfriend, Jake’s own sense of loss turned him increasingly into small-town New Hope’s number-one troublemaker. After an incident in which Jake was implicated (but not actually involved), he ran away at 15; nearly a year later, after an encounter with two malicious punks in a New York subway train turns him into a local hero, he decides to go home. But there things are only worse: his father has drifted even farther from reality, and everyone in New Hope expects the worst from both father and son. Jake soon connects with his one friend, Frankie, and falls back to his usual lawbreaking tricks. Even a beating by a bunch of self-appointed vigilantes that puts him in the hospital only steels his resolve to create mayhem. The one saving grace in his life is a pretty freelance writer, drawn by his New York episode to do a book about him, on whom Jake develops a major crush. His feelings for her are all that keep him from exploding in rage when the long-awaited other shoe drops, turning New Hope into a place of no hope for him. The baffling intricacies of adolescent behavior are clearly of primary concern here, and they—re handled well, but other characters meanwhile wither away into insubstantiality.