For the past five days, I've felt a dark shadow around the edge of my thoughts because of this book. I felt for Theo, the 13-year-old whose mother dies in a terrorist bombing at the Met. In the aftermath, Theo's life devolves step by wretched step ... with the dysfunctional Park Avenue family that takes him in; his stay in Las Vegas with his addiction-riddled father, who has men coming to the house with baseball bats, and his trashy girlfriend Xandra; his friendship with Boris who seems hell bent on self-destruction. At this point in the book, I had to jump forward fifty pages or so just to make sure Theo gets out of Vegas. But even after Theo's return to New York, to the home of someone trustworthy and kind, he lies and cheats and swindles his way into a position where I wondered, how on EARTH can he dig his way out of this?
I was struck by how, even with a decent family, a teen is in danger; and without one, he is on the verge of destruction; after Theo's mother dies, all the counselors and teachers are well-meaning but seem unable to empathize authentically and incapable of helping him. The safety net feels very fragile, if it even exists. That's what felt so terrifying and painful; it's like watching the proverbial runaway train.
And yet the book is so beautifully written, I couldn't stop reading. I did enjoy all the references that were like a series of winks to anyone who ever lived in NYC: the Temple of Dendur, Gristedes, the Paris Theater, the bicycle messengers, Barneys; and more broadly to the cultural referents of our time: to *The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe*; "Potter," which is Boris's nickname for Theo; the bus ride from Vegas ("They tried to sell this whole family-friendly package a few years ago, but it didn't wash"), through "Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse"; and "that man who landed the plane in the river a few years back and saved everyone, remember him?" (recently turned into the movie SULLY). It gives this book a feeling of being a story that is, to some extent, about Every(wo)man. In the end, there is some redemption, even a sense of something learned at great cost (deep sigh of relief). And the book feels unforgettable to me.