A young man weathers grisly traumas and tries to climb out of depression while attending an elite boarding school in this novel.
Chris Brooks grew up in a building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, but his parents squandered their wealth, so in 1971, they moved permanently into their weekend home in Derring Harbor, New York, on Long Island. The 13-year-old is eager to attend the exclusive St. James’ School, a boarding school that three generations of his family have attended. But before he officially moves there, a former classmate from his old school gets him drunk, sexually assaults him, and swears him to secrecy. Chris is tortured by the incident, feeling like he was somehow to blame for it. Shortly thereafter, another sociopathic teenager ferociously rapes Chris in a boathouse and then chillingly shows up at Chris’ home later, with parents in tow, demanding an apology for fictitious insults. Chris’ parents don’t defend him at the time, although sometime later, his father believes his story about the rape—but he declines to press charges in order to avoid a messy, neighborhood imbroglio. At St. James’, Chris abuses drugs and fends off the advances of a pederast housemaster. Author Rue (Last Tango in Jacksonville, 2010) courageously plumbs the depths of the topic of sexual abuse with an unblinking realism. However, the narrative simply piles too many troubles on its protagonist’s young shoulders; for example, early on, it’s revealed that his Uncle Ned is a monster who treats him with seething contempt. However, the young man’s suffering is so profound later on that there doesn’t seem to be a narrative reason to include that source of despair. Also, it seems that everyone at the school knows that the housemaster is a pedophile—one student describes him as “unrepentant and full-blown,” and even Chris’ brother, Jack, warns Chris to stay away from him—and it’s never really made clear what accounts for the housemaster’s apparent impunity. Still, these plot defects aside, this is an affecting, if dispiriting, story to read.
An emotionally wrenching story of teenage survival, despite its flaws.