Mike, Bones, Mixer and Tommy have been friends for a long time. But when Tommy goes missing, they don’t know where he could be. He’s disappeared before, but never like this. Maybe he went somewhere on his own. Maybe someone took him. They can’t even really make a guess.
Then their English teacher, Mr. Haberman, brings a barrel into class to demonstrate an idea relating to the book they’re reading, ‘Crime and Punishment.’ The barrel’s full of something, but Mr. Haberman won’t tell them what. And it doesn’t seem like that farfetched of an idea that Mr. Haberman, who’s always been a bit strange, who calls the boys ‘gentlemen,’ who seems to be hinting at a crime that’s a little closer to home than the one in ‘Crime and Punishment,’ could have killed Tommy and stuffed him in the barrel.
I think this is such a great book because when you pull it apart, it’s really very simple. Tommy goes missing. And the other three boys draw conclusions from his disappearance that might be accurate, but might not. But with that simple plot, the author, Michael Northrop, creates a book that’s tense and intricate. It’s about Tommy and his disappearance, of course, but even more than that, it’s about the other three boys, their lives, Tommy’s life, what’s happened to them all in the past, little things and big things that have made them who they are and have, in their own ways, led them to make the guesses that they make. It’s not exciting in an adventure kind of way, but it is edge of your seat reading. You never know what the boys, except Mike, are really thinking. You never know until the very end whether their guess is right. You never know where Tommy is. It’s frightening and intense and edgy.
It’s also so very entrenched in those teenage years, where the characters are almost adults, but not quite. It’s narrated by Mike in the first person, and his voice is so unique and honest. Sometimes I liked him and sometimes I had to shake my head at what a teenager he was, and that was really a perfect way to write him. I think this book, unlike so many books that are geared toward anyone who might like them, is really very much aimed at teenagers. Normally I’d say that doesn’t work, but it’s inclusive. But here, it does work, because it’s so well done that even though it’s speaking directly to a certain age, a certain mindset maybe, even, it’s very enjoyable no matter what age. I think the first time I read it I was in my late teens or early twenties, and the second time was the other day, and I’m 26 now. And I enjoyed it very much both times. It has an effortless kind of style to it, and the plot is just incredibly engaging. It never really compromises on that voice, either. Sometimes Mike says things that I found just appalling, but it was very true to his age and where he came from, and I think it takes a lot of bravery to write like that, even though it’s much more truthful.
It’s easy to say this book is about Tommy and the three friends he leaves behind when he disappears. But I think at its heart it’s really more about friendships, the people you’re with on a daily basis but may never really know, and how people both grow together and pull apart, sometimes so slowly you never even notice it. It’s about what people are capable of, and what they’re not. And I really like that it leads you to those ideas in such an easy way, holding your attention but at the same time examining a lot of different ideas and perspectives. It’s just really, really good.