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Book Review

This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Torey Adams is in his junior year of high school in Steepleton, N.J. He plays football and baseball and is in a blues band. He and his friends are popular. They look down on anyone who isn't part of their group. Christopher Creed is a boy who annoys nearly everyone in school. Then one Friday, he suddenly disappears.

Torey doesn't think much about Christopher’s disappearance until Sunday. In church, Christopher's parents thank the people who helped in the search for Christopher and request additional help if anyone knows of a reason why he would run away. Christopher sent the high school principal, Mr. Ames, a cryptic email, and no one is certain if Christopher committed suicide or ran away.

Alex and Ryan, two of Torey's friends, recall mistreating Christopher. Torey also remembers hitting Christopher and feels that Alex and Ryan shouldn't joke about the possibility of Christopher committing suicide. Alex hacks the school's computer system to read the note that Christopher sent to Mr. Ames. The note says that Christopher wishes he had been born as someone else, such as Torey, Alex or some of the other popular boys in town. Torey is disturbed by the thought that Christopher assumed he (Torey) had a perfect life.

Ali McDermott lives next door to the Creeds. She tells him that she's not like him because she doesn't have a perfect life, even though she's been in the same social circle as Torey her entire life. She tells Torey that Mrs. Creed is too strict with her children. Ali implies that Mrs. Creed is to blame for Christopher's disappearance. She invites Torey to her house and says that her boyfriend will be there, too.

Torey and Ali watch the Creeds' house from Ali's bedroom window. They can see into Christopher's bedroom, and Mrs. Creed searches the room while they watch. Ali tells Torey that Christopher has hidden a diary behind a picture that's hanging on the wall.

Ali's boyfriend, Bo Richardson, comes up to Ali's room. Torey is surprised that Ali would date a "boon," someone from the boondocks. Most of Torey's friends say that boons are dirty and stupid. Torey quickly develops a new respect for Bo because Bo confronts Ali's mother and her boyfriend for having sex so loudly that the children can hear. Bo also treats Ali's little brother well.

Bo decides to sneak into the Creeds' house to steal Christopher's diary. Torey calls Mrs. Creed from a payphone to entice Mr. and Mrs. Creed from the house while Bo steals the diary. Christopher's brother gives Bo the diary. Though Bo does not break into the house, he is arrested.

Mrs. Creed accuses Bo of killing Christopher, because a year earlier, he pushed Christopher off the top of the bleachers and Christopher broke his foot.

Torey's mother, an attorney, talks to the police and helps Bo. Bo asks her to give Ali a notebook, which is Christopher's diary. She agrees, though she believes it’s only Ali's notebook. Torey's mother takes Ali and her brother into her home for several weeks while Ali's mother is in a treatment center.

Torey's mother tells Ali and Torey of someone disappearing from Steepleton when she was a child. A young man was harassed until he ran away, leaving a note that he was going to "find himself." He was later found alive, but his father, Bob Haines, disappeared and was never found. Many people in Steepleton thought Bob Haines was responsible for his son running away.

From Christopher's diary, Ali learns of his girlfriend, Isabella, who lives in another town. Ali and Torey visit her. She doesn't know where Christopher is but introduces Ali and Torey to her aunt, who is a psychic. The aunt tells Torey that she sees death in the woods and that he would find it alone. Torey and Ali search the woods behind Torey's house but don’t find Christopher.

Several of Torey's friends accuse him and Bo of murdering Christopher. In a rage, Torey goes to the woods alone. He climbs on the edge of a rock, which tips, and Torey breaks his leg. He sees the bone in his leg and wonders why his leg feels like it's burning but doesn't really hurt.

When the rock tips, it exposes the opening to a cave, and Torey pulls himself into the cave despite his broken leg. He sees a dead body and gun and believes he's found Christopher. The body disintegrates to a skeleton before his eyes, as if it were burning without flames.

Torey is taken to a hospital and later to a mental health facility. Everything smells scorched to him, and nursery rhymes keep going through his mind. He learns that the body he found was Bob Haines.

After several months, Torey has recovered. His parents send him to boarding school in another town so he can avoid the gossip in Steepleton. He continues to search the Internet and email people, hoping to find Christopher.

Christian Beliefs

Torey attends church and sees Sunday as a "religious day." He talks about Sunday school. He says he doesn't have anything against God, but church is boring. He wonders if the Bible is true and why crucifixes show Jesus with a loincloth. He has heard that Jesus was crucified naked. Torey believes God might be involved in what's happening in Steepleton, that He's not "up there asleep."

Torey says that his girlfriend goes to the Holy Roller church, where people believe the Devil is real. He mentions that the youth pastor gave speeches on gossip. Torey paraphrases the story of Lazarus and the rich man, thinking that the rich man was a "heartless snob."

Bo tells Ali that she's not responsible for her mother by saying, "You ain't her Jesus."

Torey refers to his nurse as being omnipresent, like God. He writes song lyrics about two men at a mill wheel, and one remains while the other "goes flying," a reference to Matthew 24:41.

Other Belief Systems

Christopher had told Ali that he was interested in Eastern religions and believed she was his brother (not his sister) in a previous life.

Torey and Ali consult a psychic who predicts much of what happens to Torey.

Authority Roles

Torey's mother tries to help him and Ali understand the implications of false accusations and gossip. Torey's mother invites Ali and her brother to stay with Torey's family while their mother is at a treatment center. Ali's mother invites many different men into her home, and her children are aware that she's having sex with these men.

Police Chief Bowen becomes angry with Bo and beats him, giving him black eyes. He has also been unfaithful to his wife. Bo says his mother doesn't come home for several days at a time without contacting her family. He spends the night in jail because she doesn't pick him up. Whenever he slept in the woods overnight, his mother wouldn't notice he was gone until morning. Bo takes responsibility for making lunches for his younger siblings.

Mr. Ames, the principal, supports Torey and Ali. He confronts Mrs. Creed and tells her that Christopher did not have good social skills.


God's name and Jesus' name are taken in vain frequently. Profanity includes h---, b--tard, a--, p---, d--n, s--- and the f-word. Other coarse language, such as butt and slut, and references to sex are used often.

Ali punches another girl. Several boys talk about punching Christopher. Torey gave him a bloody nose. Bo pushed Christopher off the bleachers, and Christopher was injured.

Torey sees the bone fragment when he breaks his leg. He also describes in detail the corpse he finds.


Torey wonders if he's gay and if another boy is gay. He has a girlfriend, but they break up. Torey says that Ali is "passing through high school on her back." Ali says that sleeping around has nothing to do with a desire for sex, but that she wants to make her father angry.

Ali's parents are no longer together because of her mother's many affairs. Ali lists several of the men with whom Mrs. McDermott has had affairs. Mrs. McDermott's current boyfriend is intentionally loud during sex so that Ali and her brother can hear him.

Bo kisses Ali's head when he hugs her. Ali and Bo kiss several times.

Isabella says that she had sex with Christopher once. In his diary, Christopher writes about touching Isabella's breasts.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Lying: Torey thinks about a lie to cover up Alex hacking into the school's computers. He and Ali don't offer all the information about who made the phone call to Mrs. Creed. Bo confesses to making the call, though he did not.

Smoking: Ali and Bo smoke cigarettes.

Alcohol: One teen talks about getting drunk unintentionally and says that he and his friends usually needed to be sneaky to get alcohol. Isabella offers Ali and another teen beer, and they drink it.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

13 and up


Carol Plum-Ucci






Record Label



Harcourt Children’s Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


On Video

Year Published



Michael L. Printz Honor Book, 2001


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