Chapters 1-5 Summary
Standish Treadwell often wonders about "what ifs." What if things, little things, had happened differently? Likely, the story he is about to tell never would have been. But the fact is, they did not happen differently and, as he so aptly notes, "what ifs are as boundless as the stars."
Standish Treadwell is dyslexic: words to him "are just circus horses dancing up and down." The kids at school tease him, chanting, "Standish Treadwell. Can't read, can't write. Standish Treadwell isn't bright." It is true that Standish cannot even spell his own name. He does have a story to tell, however, even though he dares not write it down, even if he could.
Despite his learning challenges, Standish is not stupid. He has an uncommonly strong imagination, and often sees things that others overlook. His old teacher, Miss Connolly, recognized this trait in him, and called him "an original." His best friend Hector appreciated it too.
Because he is considered "stupid," Standish sits in the back of the room at school, where he is "all but invisible." From this vantage point, even if he could read, the only word on the blackboard at the front of the room that he can make out is the huge one, stamped in red letters over a picture of the moon, that screams "MOTHERLAND." Standish is not paying attention on the day the note summoning him to the headmaster's office arrives in the classroom. He is lost in a daydream, imagining that he and Hector are in "the city across the water...where the sun shines in Technicolor." The world that Standish really lives in is dark and fearful; here, "the sky fell in long ago." Still, the boy had seen this other place once on TV, so he knows it exists, and he and Hector had invented a planet, Juniper, that is just like it, in all its wonder.
Standish is dreaming about being on Juniper, driving an "ice-cream-colored Cadillac" with his friend, heading home "for Croca-Colas in a shiny kitchen with a checked tablecloth and a garden that looks as if the grass was Hoovered." This vision is shattered when his teacher, Mr. Gunnell, calls his name. Mr. Gunnell is short and muscular, with "well-oiled army-tank arms." On his "sweaty, shiny head" he wears a ludicrous toupee; he has a small dark moustache, and smiles only when engaging in his favorite sport, which is hurting people. Mr. Gunnell approaches Standish, and whacks him across the hand with his cane. He then grabs hold of his ear, and pinches it, hard.
Standish is annoyed with himself for being unprepared for his teacher's onslaught. The fact that he had been unaware that Mr. Gunnell had been about to strike makes him realize that he has gotten too used to having Hector watch his back. Hector is gone now, though, and Standish is on his own.
Standish does not cry when Mr. Gunnell pinches his ear. Instead, he keeps his mind on planet Juniper, to which he and Hector had planned to travel on their own space mission one day. They had hoped to make contact with the Juniparians, "who knew right from wrong," and would come to save their land from oppression. On their journey into space, Standish and Hector agreed to bypass the moon. Why would they want to go there, when the Motherland would have already spoiled it, having achieved her goal of being the first nation to land on that pristine, faraway orb?
Chapters 6-10 Summary
To underscore his sadistic contempt for Standish, Mr. Gunnell undoes the boy's tie before releasing him. To the hapless fifteen-year-old, this deed is the ultimate humiliation. Dyslexic as he is, Standish cannot do up his tie, and Mr. Gunnell knows it. The boy had kept his tie's knot intact for a full year, moving it down each day just enough to slip his head through, then closing it up again, "neat as a whistle." Now, the "undone, hangman's rope of a tie" makes Standish feel like giving up; to show up at the headmaster's office with his tie undone is akin to suicide.
Standish was able to keep his tie in proper order all that time because of Hector, who was his protector when he was here....
(The entire section is 14,294 words.)