Flashbacks explore events leading up to an incidence of school violence.
The opening scene is full of gripping sensory details: “The barrel of the gun is warm against my temple….[Ace’s] eyes are wide and wild.” But it’s the careful narrative withholding of the holder of the gun's identity that really makes the rest of the novel so interesting. As flashbacks lead up to the opening scene, readers must puzzle out which character will ultimately become the aggressor. Sometimes it seems the shooter must be Ace, the star football player whose father brutally punishes him for perceived on-field failures and who has a history of secretly tormenting the narrator, Sam. But other moments suggest that it’s long-suffering Sam who may become violent. Increasingly agitated by Ace’s bullying, Sam also starts to believe Ace plans to harm their shared childhood crush. Armed with the knowledge of the boys’ inevitable confrontation, readers will become increasingly concerned as Sam internalizes his grandfather’s motto, “Men are supposed to stand on their own two feet. Men don’t ask for help. Men take care of things on their own,” a motto Sam’s and Ace’s fathers would likely endorse as well. Ultimately their definition of masculinity may lie at the heart of the violence. The novel is as cagey about racial identity as it is about the shooter’s, offering little by way of description or cultural cues.
Though the ending lets the shooter off rather lightly, it doesn’t negate the novel’s cautionary message. (Fiction. 12-18)