This disturbing novel chronicles the gradual mental breakdown of 14-year-old Daniel Talbot, a boy whose laden social conscience, the doctor concludes, made him ""afraid to grow up"" and face responsibility for things he could do nothing about. As recounted a few years later by Daniel's younger brother Jimmy, this first appears to be comedy, even farce. Bookish Daniel, expected to be a great scholar, announces one morning that he isn't going to school again. His pushy father responds with rage and recurrent nosebleeds, his ineffectual mother retreats by taking her dog for so many walks that it grows lean. ""School phobia,"" declares an official, while we are still smiling. Then, despite Daniel's protests that ""I'm OK,"" he becomes thin and scruffy and develops a tic. And from the snippets of Daniel's Robinson Crusoe-esque diary which follow each chapter, the reader slowly realizes that ""Crusoe's"" increasing paranoia about cannibals and monsters is an expression of Daniel's real-life fears. When ""Crusoe"" builds a boat to leave his island for a safer shore, we are not surprised that Daniel builds a little boat too, nor that he sails away in it forever and is presumed dead ""by misadventure."" The reader, caught up in Daniel's despair and desperation and Jimmy's helplessness, is left stranded.