Although Thomas Flynn never attended college, he became a successful entrepreneur. All he wants for his son, Chris, is to see him go to college and succeed in life. But Chris has no interest in school and drifts toward a life of drugs and petty crime. Placed in a juvenile facility until 18, Chris takes a job with his father once he graduates high school. Although Flynn is disappointed in Chris and Chris resents his father’s plans for his future, the two learn to work together without conflict. Thomas begins to hope that Chris is maturing and leaving behind the past, but when one of Chris’s friends is murdered and Chris begins acting suspiciously, Flynn fears his son has slipped back into the past, to a place he can never leave behind.
The predominant theme is a character study of two men in a contentious relationship, one not uncommon to many fathers and sons. Through characters and plot, Pelecanos relays his own message concerning juvenile detention centers and rehabilitating young criminals. He adds suspense to the story with the murder of Chris’s friend and nicely develops a back story reflecting on Chris’s time in the juvenile facility, touching upon the injustices Chris endures in that center as well as his relationship with the other young boys facing the same fate.