When we meet Paul at thirteen he has made four attempts to run away from the Montreal boys' home where he has been confined for three grim years, and when we leave him a year or so later, on a train for Toronto, he seems to have succeeded. The closing note though is not so much exhilaration and promise but tired relief that the misery and the abuse are over. During Paul's last year in the home he has been beaten by the stereotypically brutal director, sent to the hospital with a concussion from fighting the bully who plagues him throughout, yanked out of school and sent to work, half seduced/half raped by a hip wiggling roommate with whom he sniffs glue, and almost shot by a fellow inmate who flips out. In addition his first girlfriend is snatched away by a suspicious father, the younger boy he befriends and comes to love as a brother returns to Germany, his only real friend dies in his presence and the roommate is last seen in the grip of painful and ominous symptoms. Perhaps because the plot is little more than a series of numbing physical and psychic blows, perhaps because from the start Paul has no hopes left to be dashed and neither his experiences nor his reactions come as surprises, this has a dull, almost stifling flatness that limits it as a novel. But Davies, who has worked in the sort of home he describes, makes readers believe every last pain and indignity -- while maintaining awareness, though sympathetic if superficial glimpses of bully, sadist, swish and freak alike, that all, even the repugnant head, are victims.