From the Publisher
"A taut psychological novel...[with] intriguing, well-developed characters...[that] will stay with readers."-Booklist
"De la Peña skillfully captures the slippery sides of a schizophrenic personality in this heartwarming, root-for-the-underdog novel."-SLJ
An Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Finalist
ALA-YALSA Best Book for Young Readers
An ALA-YALSA Quick Pick
A Junior Library Guild Selection
Children's Literature - Michele C. Hughes
A foster teen, Kidd recalls the events that led to his current state of frustration and confusion. He tells about his escape from the boys' home, his travels to the Southern California coast, his growing friendship with Olivia, his time under the wing of his boss and friend Mr. Red, and his complex relationship with his disturbed best friend, Devon. Mr. Red is a realistically imperfect mentor, an alcoholic who falls off the wagon and shows Kidd how even good people are broken. Olivia, lovely despite her skin disorder, encourages Kidd when he doubts himself. Maria from the group home encourages Kidd to heal and grow, providing him with a stable mothering influence. Only Devon speaks pain into Kidd's psyche. The positive characters contribute to the believability and warmth of the story, balancing out the dark and frightening influence of Devon, an enemy disguised as a friend. Sensitive, shy and wounded, Kidd struggles with his self-esteem, all the while reaching out for these meaningful relationships. Kidd recounts a childhood full of abuse and instability, including his mother's desperate decision that changed everything. Because the book is written in first person, the reader can't know what Kidd doesn't know, making the dramatic conclusion all the more surprising. Kidd's journey to self-realization is tragic, but contains glimmers of hope. Reviewer: Michele C. Hughes
Read an Excerpt
I keep picturing it over and over in the pitch black of solitary confinement. With my arms and legs strapped down and my head taped in place so I can't move or barely even breathe.
I see me pushing Devon off the cliff.
Him in the air reaching, ricocheting off the ice plant cliff, hitting the sand, people circling his crooked body.
The grunion coming from the ocean.
Olivia crying in her hands.
And every time I picture it a worse feeling goes in my stomach, like my whole body is unbalanced, or when you drop straight down in your roller-coaster cart and everybody has their hands up, screaming.
Except for me there's no end of the ride where I can get off and just sit on an empty bench with my soda watching people. This kind of roller coaster keeps going.
'Cause what if I was wrong about Devon?
What if the whole time he wasn't trying to hurt her, he just loved her? Same as me. What if that's the reason he was always wandering around alone in the middle of the night like he was depressed?
And what if Olivia actually loved him back, and I got in the way of people's fate?
That doesn't make sense, though. 'Cause he kept telling me she thought she was better and he would use his gun on her.
And Olivia liked me.
She even said it at Torrey Pines Beach while we sat together on her special rock and watched the sunset colors spread over the ocean.
They put me in Horizons after my mom died 'cause they said I had post-traumatic stress. They believed it was the reason I was always so tired and confused and bad to myself.
But right now it's even worse.
I can't think.
I can just stare at the total darkness in front of me, which feels like being inside a black hole. Or if your boat drifted into the Bermuda Triangle.
Solitary confinement is like you don't exist.
If I had my philosophy of life book and a pen I'd try to write about what happened on the cliff, and how maybe now I understand why some people have to be put in jail. They've shown they're capable of crossing a line, like pushing another person off a cliff, and maybe it wasn't even for the right reasons, which shows you their judgment, and what if they did it again.
But I can't write anything 'cause the police didn't put my book with me.
That's the first thing I checked when I woke up in this blackness. I tried to reach, but my arms were strapped too tight. My whole body ached after I just barely shifted, parts I'd never even thought about like in between my fingers and behind my knees.
The police must've pounded me with their billy clubs when they loaded me into the back of their squad car and drove me to prison. They probably thought I was evil for what I did to my best friend. Everybody probably did.
But they didn't know Devon.
They'd never heard him talk about rich people, especially girls. They'd never seen his gun or how he made a throat-slashing sign at Olivia or how he'd stand there staring at her tent in the middle of the night when she was sleeping.
They'd think different if they knew.
I wake up and try to reach out my hand again, to feel for my philosophy of life book, 'cause I need it, but I still can't move. The straps feel even tighter. My breaths barely have room. And it's still the blackest black you could ever picture, like everything got burned up.
I keep thinking if this is the form of torture that happens in solitary confinement, even though you're not supposed to torture people in the United States.
And then it really sinks in.
Where I am.
Strapped down in a bed behind bars.
And all my mom ever said was for me to be a good person. And be polite. And respect my elders.
I imagine her looking down from heaven right now. Her only son in solitary confinement, being tortured. And I see from her expression how heartbroken she is. Tears running makeup stains down her cheeks and her chin quivering and her eyes so sad, like two cat's-eye marbles nobody wants to shoot for.
Just thinking about my mom crying makes my lungs start going too fast. Like I've just sprinted up the campsite stairs. And now I'm gasping for air and my heart's pounding my ribs and it feels like I'm lifting out of my own body, floating above my prison cot. . . .
I'm hovering by the ceiling now.
Next to my mom.
We're both watching me lay here, unable to move, chest going up and down and up and down, too many times a second. We're cringing at the welts on my arms and legs and face where they clubbed me.
And this loud ringing noise starts in both my ears.
Little gusts of wind pass over my skin like prison ghosts are moving all around my cell. They're waiting for me to die so they can take me to what comes next for a person who pushed his own best friend off a cliff.
And my mom's sobbing and holding them away and saying for me to hurry and remember.
About Being Awake
You have to always remember the time you escaped Horizons with Devon and ended up at that street fair downtown and how you and him had to pee so bad you couldn't even stand still. It doesn't seem important just thinking about it, but it goes exactly with what Mr. Red said about not sleepwalking and knowing you're alive. . . .
You and Devon slipped past the night watch, remember? And hopped a bus all the way to the Gaslamp District and walked through the different booths where bands were playing and people were drinking and laughing and dancing. And you drank that huge Coke and had to pee. But when you looked at the line for the portable bathrooms it stretched all the way around the block. You turned to Devon and without even saying, you and him walked up the street together looking for any random place.
There were people everywhere, though, way more than what's in Fallbrook. You went into a liquor store with elephant tusks over the doorway, but it didn't have a bathroom either, not one you were allowed to use, and by that time your bladder was so full it was pounding and you could barely walk. Devon held on to one of the magazine shelves and said it was the exact same for him.
The back door was open a crack and it looked like there was a little yard and Devon nodded and you peeked at the worker who was busy with a customer and you snuck out there behind Devon and went to the opposite part of the wall from him and unzipped your zipper and started going, your eyes making tears 'cause it was the most total relief you'd ever felt, the thin yellow puddle rolling between your shoes just barely missing them and going in the grass behind you like a contaminated ocean for the ants. . . .
On my first day working at the campsites Mr. Red told me how most people are asleep even when they're awake.
We were in the main campsite restroom, the one right by the coffee shop, mopping where a toilet overflowed all this nasty brown sewage and both of us were making disgusted faces and holding our noses and mouths as far back as possible.
"Trust me, big guy," Mr. Red said, wiping his frown on his shoulder and spitting in the toilet. He was as old as most people's dads, with floppy blond hair and tan skin, and he always had a grin on his face like everything was funny. My old counselor, Maria, said people always looked twice at Mr. Red when they passed him 'cause he was so handsome and he resembled a famous actor.
He looked at me and then looked back at the mess. "Monday through Friday. Pretty much everybody I know, Kidd. They walk around half conscious."
I kept mopping the floor and listening.
"They flip it to autopilot," he said. "You understand what I mean by 'autopilot,' right?"
I nodded, picturing a plane soaring high above the clouds and the pilot just reading a magazine or eating soup, even though I knew that wasn't what Mr. Red was saying.
He set his mop back in the bucket and dug his leather surfer hands in the back part of the toilet, started messing with pumps and hoses. "See, when people grow up and get a job, Kidd, life gets kind of monotonous and ordinary. All the possibilities dry up." He wiped his face on his shoulder again. "So, what do people do? Learn how to shut off their minds. Sleepwalk through the weekdays."
He looked up and said: "Why do you think I started drinking in the first place, big guy, for my health?"
I smiled 'cause Mr. Red was smiling.
He shook his head and put his right foot up on the toilet seat for leverage. "Shoot, Kidd, soon as quitting time came on Friday I'd hurry off to the bar and wake up on whiskey. Couple years like that and I couldn't wait until weekends anymore. Wednesday seemed close enough. Then Tuesday."
He looked at me and shrugged with his eyes, then went back to what he was doing. "According to my sponsor, Bill the Deacon, that kind of thinking is what landed me in rehab. I tried to explain how the only time I saw colors was after I'd knocked down a couple Jamesons, but Bill the Deacon just shook his head and told me I was deceiving myself. Bill's a big heavyset dude from Iowa, by the way. Former deacon. Used to milk cows and rake hay and drive a tractor in his downtime, the whole thing. Only deacon-farmer I've ever met. Now he sells pharmaceuticals out of a white van in La Jolla. Anyway, according to Bill the Deacon, drinking's just another form of sleepwalking. And all those colors I thought I saw, they were an optical illusion. Like looking at yourself in the funny mirror at the fair."
I pictured my mom drinking wine from a box. How she'd nod off in her rocking chair, in front of the flickering TV, knitting needles loose in her fingers like sharpened pencils and her head leaning forward in super slo-mo and her catching it, leaning forward again in slo-mo and her catching it.
I stood there mopping the murky brown water. Remembering my mom.
"Point is, whenever I gotta mess with crap like this," Mr. Red said, pointing all around the sewage. "No pun intended. You know what I tell myself, Kidd?"
"I say: 'All right, Red, maybe this isn't your number one choice. But at least you're awake enough these days to smell it!' "
He laughed hard, his shaggy blond hair falling in front of his blue eyes. He moved it away with the back of his wrist and stopped doing what he was doing and looked at me. "By the way, I don't know if I like you calling me sir, big guy. Makes me feel like a venture capitalist."
"Oops, there it is again."
"I mean, Mr. Red."
He tilted his head and frowned. "Mr. "
We looked at each other.
I thought how my mom always said to have respect.
He was quiet for a minute, just frowning at me, and then he coughed into his shoulder and said: "Anyway, sometimes I still dream about it. How warm a swallow of Jameson felt going down. The sweet aftertaste. The beautiful women who sat beside me on barstools and told me their lives."
He spit into the toilet again. "Sometimes I wonder: is an occasional glance at a funny mirror really such a bad thing?"
He shook his head, put the lid of the toilet back on, and wiped his hands down the sides of his work shirt and shorts. "Promise me you won't tell Bill the Deacon what I just said."
A smile went on his face and he said: "Look, you get my point, right? About handling the different jobs you'll be doing here? Some are a little less glamorous than others."
I nodded, thinking how I'd rather do any job than be stuck inside the faded pee-colored walls of my bedroom at Horizons, where the people constantly watch you and make you do therapy and take medicine.
Mr. Red play-punched me in the shoulder, said: "Maybe you are a little rough around the edges like they say, Kidd, but I'll give you this. You listen. I don't know how it is for anybody else, but listening goes a long way in my book."
I put my mop in the bucket and squeezed out dirty water and said: "What book do you mean, Mr. Red?"
He checked his waterproof watch, said: "Come again?"
"You said your book."
He smiled. "Just a figure of speech, big guy. It's the way I see the world. Everybody has a way they see the world, right?"
I stayed looking at my mopping and didn't say anything. I didn't want Mr. Red to know I didn't have a book with the way I saw the world.
From the Hardcover edition.