One of the Boys
Wow. This little book packs a punch. One of the Boys is short, quick reading, deceptively simple, and deeply affecting.
The twelve-year-old narrator has always revered his affable, charismatic father. After witnessing a "war" of separation and divorce, he desperately wants to be "one of the boys" with his dad and older brother when they decide to leave Kansas for New Mexico. He wants to be there to experience his dad's promised freedom to be like a kid again. So he does what it takes to make it happen.
As they settle into their new lives, the brothers gradually realize their dad uses drugs. And, alone in a new place, his habit is getting worse. Their fresh start steadily descends into a harrowing ordeal of isolation, abuse, and desperate survival.
The boy (unnamed like all the novel's major characters) relates his story in direct, unadorned language that allows events to speak for themselves. And they speak powerfully to themes of family, love, abuse, addiction, and masculinity. I read it over the course of a day and have been haunted by it since.
I looked up at her face again. The pool water had made her mascara run. The black streaks reminded me of my mother. She and my father, they are upstairs in their bedroom, fighting. The door is closed. My father's furious. She's lost another job. My brother and I blame her for having outraged him, for breaking the peace in the house. We decide to ambush her when she comes out of their bedroom. We tie sewing thread at ankle height around the banister outside their door, Scotch tape it to the wall. We place Hot Wheels on each stair step in case she escapes the trip wire. We wait in the hallway bathroom with cups of water we plan to douse her with once she tumbles down the stairs. Then we will berate her, tell her that she is a bad wife, a s***ty mom, that she's ruined our lives.
The tape rips easily from the wall when she runs from the bedroom. She doesn't notice as on her way down the stairs she steps on a Hot Wheel. She moves quickly, her head down, hands over face. At the bottom of the stair my brother and I call to her softly, as rehearsed. When she looks up, her cheeks smeared with mascara, there is the reflex of contrition in her eyes. Her mouth is already forming the words I'm sorry. We throw water in her face. "You b**ch," we say. "F*** you. We hate you." She runs faster down the next flight.