In a debut novel utterly devoid of subtlety, a bully and his primary target end up as roommates in a hospital psych ward.
Although Bull has tormented Victor ever since elementary school, both come from unhappy homes. Victor is the child of the most exaggeratedly miserable and demanding rich parents imaginable: When he receives a perfect score on only one of three SAT test sections, his mother, unable to eat, asks, “how could you let those other scores happen ... to us?” In Bull's somewhat less caricature-ish family, the grandfather is a violent drunk and the mother spends their food money on beer, but both are protective in their own way. Chapters narrated from each boy's perspective allow readers to see the same situations through both Bull's and Victor's eyes, from an improbable run-in at the Salvation Army to the boys' even more improbable stay in adjacent hospital beds. The hospital is a far more nourishing environment than either teen's home, and readers see both Bull and Victor open up in new ways during their time there. A poem central to the text suggests that mistreated people who feel empty can “fill / themselves / up,” but the healing here happens through others' intervention rather than through internal change.
Well-meaning but ineffective melodrama. (Fiction. 12-15)