In Chris Crutcher's novel, Ben is a teenager with a fatal illness. Along with his terminal condition, his other main problem is that he does not trust the strength of his closest relationships. Because his mother has a history of mental illness, he believes it will be better to lie to everyone about his condition as a way to spare them pain.
Ben also pursues a romantic and sexual relationship with a girl he has a crush on. As they grow closer, he realizes that she has serious personal problems of her own. When he finally tells her the truth, she sends him away; she feels betrayed by his lies.
Another problem arises when he befriends a middle aged alcoholic man. Rudy's problems affect Ben when he realizes he cannot selfishly expect the man to be a shoulder to cry on. Rudy is also carrying a mental and ethical burden that ultimately ends his life.
Ben processes this news as a wake-up call and starts allowing his family and close circle to be full parts of his life. Even though his epiphany comes rather late, he can share some important moments with them.