(Novels for Students)

The man known only as Brint interrogates Adam on the interview tapes. At first he appears to be a psychiatrist, helping Adam remember his past. His tone is gentle and kind, and he encourages Adam to take his time. Gradually, it becomes clear that he has his own agenda and that discovering what Adam can remember is perhaps more important to Brint than it is to the boy. As the reader begins to distrust Brint, so does Adam, and he resists answering Brint’s questions. When Adam voices his mistrust or asks Brint a direct question about his intentions, Brint cleverly changes the subject, and Adam, in his drugged state, does not notice the deception. In the end, it appears that Brint is not a psychiatrist at all but a government investigator attempting to determine whether Adam (“Subject A”) remembers anything incriminating.

Adam Farmer
Adam Farmer is the main character of the novel; he narrates one strand of the story in the first person and is the center of the action in the other two strands. Adam is a pleasant but shy and nervous boy who has few friends and little confidence. He is often afraid—of dogs, open spaces, closed spaces, “a thousand things.” He wants to be a writer, like Thomas Wolfe. As he enters his teen years, he falls in love with Amy, who draws him out of his shell, and he begins to notice that his parents seem to have a secret. Slowly, he discovers that he was born with a different name (Paul Delmonte) and that he and his parents were relocated and given new identities by the government. In the “present” strands of the novel, Adam is riding his bike to visit his father in Rutterburg, Vermont, a town seventy miles away. In another strand of the novel, he is interrogated by a man named Brint, who wants to know what Adam remembers of his past. Gradually, it becomes clear that Adam/Paul is being held in some sort of mental institution, continually drugged. His bike trip, as is revealed at the end of the novel, occurs mostly in Adam’s imagination. In fact, his father and his mother are dead. Remembering “The Farmer in the Dell,” the song his father used to sing, Adam is the one who says to himself near the end of the novel, “I am the cheese”—the cheese that stands alone.

David Farmer
David Farmer, Adam’s father, was born Anthony Delmonte, and until Adam/Paul was a toddler he was a newspaper reporter. When he discovered a connection between organized crime and government officials, he testified before Congress, was threatened, and had his wife and son relocated and renamed, along with himself, by the U.S. Department of Re-Identification. Since then, he has gone by the name Mr. Farmer, worked as an insurance agent, and kept in touch with the mysterious Mr. Grey. The...

(The entire section is 1134 words.)

Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Because of its intentionally ambiguous characters and structure, it is not easy to construct a clear analysis of this novel. A detailed attempt to solve its mystery completely may lead to even more questions and confusion. Even Cormier's responses to readers do not fully clarify matters.

What the reader does "know" is that Adam Farmer believes that he is riding his bicycle to Rutterburg, Vermont, to rescue his father; that he has learned about a past life of which he has been unaware; and that he is involved with some institution interested in learning more about his memory.

Given the ambiguity of the plot, the book's mysterious characters demand careful attention—particularly Adam, who the reader later learns is really Paul Delmonte. Assuming that Adam/Paul is both the bicycle rider and the boy under interrogation or therapy, it is reasonable to deduce that he suffers from emotional problems or even mental illness. At some points he seems innocent and vulnerable, at others, mistrustful and defiant. Regardless, his actions indicate that he is pitted against a system of shadowy individuals or organizations, possibly the government or organized crime. It is less clear, however, whether Adam is a pawn in some game or if he is knowingly out on his own trying to outwit his adversaries and rescue his father from some sinister situation.

In a way, Adam's exploits with Amy Hertz, called "Numbers," prove his capacity to work within a conspiracy. But these childish pranks hardly compare to the ominous world of the strange Mr. Grey and the even more puzzling Brint. Readers familiar with Cormier's fiction will...

(The entire section is 672 words.)