TJ – otherwise known as The Dao Jones – knows what it’s like to be on the losing end of the stick. Partly white, partly black, and partly Japanese, he is one of the only non-white folk in his rural town in the Northwest. After suffering child abuse, he was adopted at two years old. He was lucky. Things are good for him now – very good in fact. He’s bright and athletic, although he’s never participated in sports at his school just on principle. But then, during his senior year, things start to change. His favorite teacher desperately needs him to form a swim team. TJ agrees, not because he knows he will be star of the team, but because he is determined to get letter jackets for a ragtag mix of outcasts from the school. Meanwhile, he’s dealing with the fallout both from actions his father took thirty years ago, and with the increasing fury of a man whose children have been removed from his home.
Chris Crutcher has won awards for all of his books, and it is not hard to see why. His characters are realistic and believable. TJ is a mix of rage and kindness. While the villains of the book are stereotypical, one-trick ponies, TJ’s friends and fellow swimmers are three-dimensional. There is just enough information given about each character that you can tell there is an entire backstory to that individual, yet only a few sentences or so are revealed, since this is not their book.
The author has a lot of insight into abuse. TJ despairs of ever understanding why certain people seem to put themselves into the path of abuse over and over. He also refuses to accept that there is really nothing he can do to help such a person.