Themes

(Novels for Students)

Poverty
Although Steve and Rusty-James agree that their neighborhood is not "the slums," they note that it's "crummy." They live in a poor area. Steve's family is better off because his father apparently has a job, but Rusty-James and the Motorcycle Boy have to scavenge, steal, and hope their father won't drink up all of his welfare check before they get a piece of it. When Rusty-James is hungry, he finds some sardines, crackers, and milk in the kitchen, remarking, "I ain't picky. I like about anything." The reader gets the sense that there was not much else in the house, other than his father's bottles of "sneaky pete."

Alienation and Abandonment
"For a tough kid I had a bad habit of getting attached to people," Rusty-James says in the beginning of the book, and as the story progresses, the reader finds out why. Abandoned by his mother as a toddler, left alone by his father for three days while his father went on a drunken binge, he learned early to fear solitude and at the same time to be wary of other people. His biggest fear, throughout the book, is that the Motorcycle Boy will leave for good.

The only time in the book when Rusty-James says he feels truly alive is when he, Steve, and the Motorcycle Boy cross the river and find themselves among crowds of people, cruising cars and listening to music. Rusty-James says, "I couldn't explain how I feel. Jivey, juiced up, just alive. The lights, I mean, and all the people." In contrast, nothing else in the book causes him to vary from his heavy emotional tone. Going to the lake with friends or making out with his girlfriend don't provide the pleasure that it seems they should; these are all just things to do to fill in time.

One of the most interesting aspects of Rusty-James' s alienation and emotional homelessness is that no one in their apartment has his own room or even his own bed. The apartment has a cot and a mattress, and Rusty-James, the Motorcycle Boy, and his father sleep on either of them. "It didn't matter which," Rusty-James says. The reader is given the sense that they don't need three places to sleep because it's very rare that all three of them are home at the same time. There's no comfort in their house, very little food, and no stable routine. Their father is not interested in their lives, except for feeling mild curiosity about their exploits, and is completely emotionally detached from them, never providing meals,...

(The entire section is 1006 words.)