In the small town of Steepleton, New Jersey, Christopher Creed, the school nuisance, disappears, leaving behind only an emailed note as any clue to his whereabouts. While everyone is either out to find him or cracking themselves up thinking of ways Chris killed himself, Victor "Torey" Adams is thinking differently, realizing just how much of an ass he (and everyone, really) was to Chris. When his friend Ali McDermott along with her secret boyfriend Bo Richardson come to him with more evidence, Torey becomes caught in the crossfire between those who want Chris alive and those who stand against him.
Tropes present in this work:
- Abusive Parents:
- Albert, Mrs. McDermott's boyfriend, regularly has sex with Mrs. McDermott making a point to be as loud as possible to mess with the McDermott kids.
- A weird case with the Creed parents. While they are not abusive in the traditional senses, they run their childrens' lives with militaristic precision, which Ali believes may have contributed to Chris's weirdness.
- Bo's mom regularly leaves for days drinking.
- Ambiguous Disorder: From descriptions of him, Chris shows a lot of signs consistent with Asperger's (bad with people, doesn't pick up on social cues, speaks with a vocabulary not consistent with his age group, seems to obsess over random subjects, intelligent enough to hide money from his mother as part of his plan to run away from home...).
- Central Theme: Guilt and how people handle it - specifically blaming others for what they themselves have done.
- Gallows Humor: Deconstructed. Most of Torey's friends are shown making jokes about Chris possibly committing suicide, and after reflecting on it, Torey realizes this is just another way of everyone blame-shifting and saying they had nothing to do with what happened to Chris.
- Generation Xerox: Torey learns that a similar thing happened when his parents were kids. A boy named Digger Haines ran away after losing a leg and not feeling like he was able to fulfill his father's expectations.
- The Ghost: Chris only appears in flashbacks.
- Not Evil, Just Misunderstood: Bo Richardson is seen by most people as a rough-and-tumble criminal in the making. Once Torey actually gets to know him, he finds him to be a good guy who shuts down Mrs. McDermott's pervert boyfriend, watches over Ali's younger brother Greg and his own siblings, and mothers other boons.