At the age of fifteen, Luther T. Farrell helps his mother, known as Sarge, run a real estate empire in the ghetto of Flint, Michigan. His father is dead, and Luther has been raised by his mother, who left teaching to take a lucrative job on the Buick assembly line in Flint. She has since branched out into shady business operations, which she is grooming her only son to run. Luther has heard stories concerning his mother: The rental properties and group homes she owns barely meet city codes; she uses the residents in her homes to gouge the Social Security system; most disturbing, she runs a loan shark operation and even uses an intimidating second-in-command, Darnell Dixon, as muscle.
Luther, meanwhile, has his own ambitions: He wants to study philosophy at Harvard University. In return for the hours of work Luther has put in, Sarge has been putting aside an education fund, now worth more than ninety thousand dollars. That money is Luther’s ticket out of Flint. His only friend, the goofy Sparky, lacking such resources, schemes to get out of Flint by suing someone rich.
Luther discovers a stash of pills in the mattress of one of his mother’s tenants. He suspects the tenant, Chester X. Stockard, is hoarding the pills to use to commit suicide. The encounter, though, leads the two to become friends. Chester tells Luther bluntly that his mother is using him and will never let him go. Chester advises Luther to move with him to Florida. Luther...
(The entire section is 552 words.)