The theme of this novel is guilt and the way people can deal with emotions caused by traumatic events. Andy Jackson, who is 17 and is on the Hazelwood High School basketball team, accidentally kills his friend, Robbie Washington, who was the captain of the team. Andy was driving drunk when the accident took place.
While the other people in the car survive, Robbie doesn't, and Andy can't get over his friend's death. Andy tries to go back to playing basketball and becomes the captain of the team, but he is overcome by guilt and depression. He sees a psychologist, but he doesn't realize that he can ask others for help until it's too late and depression has enveloped him. He decides to kills himself. The other members of the team deal with their grief about Robbie and later about Andy in different ways. For example, B.J. turns to religion, while other friends react with anger to Andy's suicide. At the end of the novel, Andy's brother Monty visits his grave and says he's not going to cry anymore, wanting to become like Andy. The theme of the book is that people have to find a way to deal with tragedy and guilt and that simply denying their emotions doesn't work. Instead, the author emphasizes that people need to seek help when they are struggling emotionally.