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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Drive for Survival

Survival, both emotional and economic, is a thread that weaves through all of Torres's narratives in the book. From an early age, the three boys are forced to rely on each other, because their parents are unable to provide for them consistently. They perform tasks such as cooking food from quite a young age in order to survive. Survival also figures into the relationship between Ma and Paps; at one point, Ma attempts to leave Paps with the children due to his ongoing physical and sexual abuse. It is unclear whether survival for Ma means leaving Paps or staying with him.

Struggles for Identity

Further along in the book, Torres reveals that the narrator is gay. He suffers greatly at the hands of his family for his coming out: he is caught and institutionalized against his will. His brothers also stop speaking to him. However, he finally finds a community outside of his family among other queer people. In this way, the narrator's sexual identity serves as both the source of his exile from his family and, ultimately, as his route toward escaping them. It also gives him an escape route from emulating the toxic masculinity modeled by his father.

The Tension Between Innocence and Maturity

The boys are all forced into adult-like activities at a young age. However, in many ways they are still children. The tension between the children's early—and involuntary—adulthood and the raucous activities of their childhood play is present for much of the narrative. Innocence is also important to the narrative in that events, especially violent or sexual ones, are often described from a place of incomplete understanding; that is, though they affect the narrator, he is innocent of at least part of their meaning. The gulf between childhood and adulthood is also present in the parents of the boys, who were still teenagers when the first of the children was born.

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Chapter Summaries