Author: Carol Plum-Ucci
Publisher: Harcourt, 2000
Where I got it: The lovely library.
Torey Adams is member of a well-off, slightly rural small town where everyone seems to get along... except for Torey's classmate Christopher Creed, the local weirdo and annoyance. But when Creed goes missing and leaves a cryptic note that could point to running away, suicide or murder, old secrets and the ugly side of the community come out in the open. And when Torey tries to dig up the truth, he is one of the main targets for their hatred and fear.
This is a mystery and a thriller, but also a look at small-town life and ethics. In Torey's community, everyone wants to showcase their virtues without having to deal with their and their neighbor's imperfections and flaws. Blame is passed from person to person, and because no one wants to accept the responsibility they share in Creed's disappearance (as well as other incidents in the town from years earlier), they point their finger at anyone who might be able to serve as their scapegoat. The boons are a favorite target, the poorer and more wild group of people that live on the fringes of the town, though anyone will serve the purpose so long as the accusers are cleared.
Torey is very philosophical about his ethics and beliefs, especially in reviewing his own treatment of Creed and others in the past. He is forced to reevaluate his life and his choices in light of Creed's disappearance (and possible suicide), leading him to change his attitude and actions toward everything. His inner monologue will also spark readers to think about the way they treat others as well. Plum-Ucci highlights that a person's family life might lead them to act the way they do, and readers should get the message that they can't truly judge a person until they really know them. There is more to a person than the way they act in public.
My problems with the book lie in the language and telling of the story. Torey is a sympathetic character, but the way he and his friends speak sometimes sound off. They use slang that make me double take, which throws me off from the story. It was something that consistently bothered me throughout the book, though it wasn't something that happened on every page.
The action of the book is what keeps the story moving along, despite its philosophical and ethical undertones. Torey and his friend Ali are scrambling to find the answer before the disappearance is pinned on someone innocent, thus driving the story forward. But through all this the ending is left ambiguous, with a few hints as to what really happened.
Because of the action-centered nature of this book and because of the male narrator, this would be a good quick pick for a boy, especially if they like mysteries or thrillers. They might be turned off by the introspective parts a little, but it's a good read.