From the very start, school seems like an alien, hostile territory. Marcus is struck by a feeling of doom and tries to think of ways to get out of being the gang's next victim:
They patrolled up and down the corridors like sharks, except that what they were on the lookout for wasn't flesh but the wrong trousers, or the wrong haircut, or the wrong sneakers, any or all of which sent them wild with excitement.
Aware of his "weirdness" and difference, Markus also knows that school is only one world among others. He strikes up a symbiosis with Will, who is looking for an excuse to impress available women and who needs Markus to be his surrogate son. This arrangement works for awhile until their father-son scenario falls apart. Their ruse is sanctioned, but each learns through "growing pains" how to optimize his individuality. The story finishes on this note. When Marcus announces to his mother that he hates Joni Mitchell, a family icon, Will realizes "beyond a shadow of a doubt" that Marcus will "be ok."