A critical part of coming-of-age lies in the problem of self-knowledge, a problem that is particularly difficult for Sam Hughes because she is so detached from the elements of family that give most people their sense of identity. Sam never knew her father, and although she and her mother maintain a friendly relationship, her mother’s remarriage and new baby effectively remove her from Sam’s resources. Irene is vague about Sam’s father when asked questions about him; she is even uncertain about where his old letters may be. Irene’s parents, who also live in Hopewell, are not much more help. They live in a sterile world of small-town consumerism, a world that Sam has already come to mistrust.
In fact, most of the people who inhabit Sam’s world are similarly rootless. Emmett floats aimlessly from the television to minor household jobs to alcoholic binges. He and Sam share a deep affection, and as a veteran he has experienced the most potent link to Sam’s father that she can imagine. Crippled psychologically and perhaps physically by the war, however, Emmett is more in need of help from Sam than he is able to offer help to her. He has trouble connecting even with his girlfriend Anita, who shares Sam’s concern for him. The other minor characters in the novel are equally unhelpful. Sam’s friend Dawn is unable to share Sam’s urgent sense that she has important things to learn about herself and life; Dawn has been happy working at the Burger Boy, just as she expects to be happy to marry her high school boyfriend and have his baby. Sam’s boyfriend Lonnie is similarly limited. Even Sam’s grandparents seem unable to tell...
(The entire section is 672 words.)