The novel begins with Bryon, the sixteen-year-old narrator and protagonist, going to meet his best friend Mark at Charlie’s Bar, a pool hall in a rough part of town. Mark is fifteen, and he has lived with Bryon and Bryon’s mom since the age of nine, when his parents killed each other in a drunken fight. Mark and Bryon often hang out at Charlie’s and hustle people at pool to make money. On this particular night there is no one to hustle, so they convince Charlie, a gruff but likable bartender, to give them some Cokes on their tab. Charlie makes them promise to pay the three dollars they owe by the next day, and Mark and Bryon go off in search of their friend M&M.
They find M&M, a remarkably intelligent and trusting thirteen-year-old who comes from a large family, reading a news magazine at the drugstore. The three teenagers spend a typical night wandering aimlessly in search of amusement, which ends dramatically when M&M is attacked by some guys from a rival gang. Mark and Bryon eagerly join the fight, rescuing M&M and pickpocketing the three dollars they owe Charlie in the process. Mark and Bryon live in a world where muggings, fights and stealing are all everyday occurrences.
Bryon’s mother has been in the hospital for an expensive surgery, which they had to sell their car to pay for. Bryon has been trying to find a job without success, and Mark—who is on probation for hot-wiring cars—often steals things to make ends meet. When they visit Bryon’s sweet, compassionate mother in the hospital, she encourages them to talk to the injured boy across the hall who has no visitors. The boy, Mike, tells them how he drove a young black woman home after his gang of friends threatened her, and when he got to her house, her friends beat him nearly to death. Mike says that even though he was trying to help the girl rather than hurt her, he can still understand why her friends beat him. During their visit to the hospital, Bryon also meets Cathy, M&M’s pretty older sister, and soon Bryon and Cathy begin...
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