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Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Davis "Davey" Wexler, who was given her mother's maiden name because there was no one else left to carry on the family name, is a perfect Blume heroine, feisty and feeling, smart and assertive, one not afraid to show emotion, be it sadness, anger, elation, or fear. She has brown hair, eyes like a cat, a swimmer's build (although she does not swim or dive), and a personality that combines toughness and vulnerability with a sense of humor. Her parents are both half Jewish. She is fifteen at the novel's beginning, sixteen at its end.

Those most important to Davey are her immediate family: her father, Adam Wexler, who recently died but who is still very much alive in Davey's thoughts; her mother, Gwendolyn, who falls into the depths of depression following the death of her beloved husband; her seven-year-old brother, Jason, who is young and innocent enough to adjust more easily to the loss and who provides much of the comic relief in the book; and her cat, Minka. Davey's best friends in Atlantic City are Lanaya, a tall, skinny black girl, and her boyfriend, Hugh, who was with her on the night of her father's death.

In Los Alamos, the Wexlers live with Adam Wexler's older sister, Elizabeth "Bitsy" Kronick, and her husband, Walter. Davey has met this couple only once before, when she was five and her grandmother died. The Kronicks have no family of their own, and they soon adopt the Wexlers into their lives. Aunt Bitsy, an enthusiastic club woman and science museum guide, enjoys organizing and controlling everyone's lives while Uncle Walter works as a physicist at the Lab in W (for Weapons) Division; ironically, the Kronicks are preoccupied with a fear of accidents and are overly concerned with everyone's safety. Bitsy will not let Davey ride a bicycle without wearing a helmet and Walter, who carries a loaded rifle in his automobile, will not let Davey take Driver's Education or learn to ski because it is too dangerous. The entire family has a space reserved for them in a bomb shelter.

The first friend Davey makes in Los Alamos is a mysterious young man, about twenty years old, whom she meets while exploring a nearby canyon. Although she is too filled with pain to open up to him immediately, she recognizes in him a kindred spirit. He, too, is suffering from a tragedy—his father is dying. He tells her to call him "Wolf," and when he asks her name, she replies, "Tiger." Wolf calls Davey "Tiger Eyes" because her eyes remind him of a tiger's, "the way they change color in the light from golden to brown." Later, Davey learns that Wolf, who is of Hispanic descent, is a National Merit Scholar and a junior at Cal Tech who is working at the Lab for a semester to be near his terminally ill father.

Once Davey starts attending Los Alamos High School, she meets several teachers and many young people her age. The students are classified into groups: Coneheads (those who are into computers and calculators, and are carbon copies of their fathers), Loadies (the ones into booze and drugs), Jocks, and Stomps (who dress in ten gallon hats and cowboy boots, chew tobacco, and ride in pickup trucks). Davey feels that she will never fit into any of the groups. She befriends others who also do not belong—regular people, as she calls them. She becomes closest to Jane, who lives on the prestigious Bathtub Row and whose father is a physicist. Jane is a smart girl, but she is lacking in self-confidence and turns to alcohol for courage. Davey becomes acquainted with Jane's family, and she also gets to know two boys with whom she and Jane double-date, Ted and Reuben. Reuben likes Davey, but Davey only likes Reuben as a friend.

Through Jane's encouragement, Davey becomes a candy striper at the hospital. There she meets a patient, Willie Ortiz, a gentleman of fifty-seven who is dying of cancer. Even in his weakened condition, he is "full of life—full of love."

After Davey's mother begins to recover, she becomes friendly with Ned Grodzinski, a man who works at the Lab....

(The entire section is 1,416 words.)