Before we start, we notice that the whole book is dedicated to the author's daughter Linda. Linda, I don't
even know who you are, but I'm so sorry. Your mom put your full name into a book about three bitter people who watch a man
die of AIDS.
We get a bit of a description of an abandoned church in New York City across from the apartment of the main
character, Liam. Whenever the wind kicks up, the boards of the building - caked with bird poop, as Fox insists - rattle like
a motherfucker, and Liam's aunt likes to complain that the whole damn thing is gonna fall down on somebody.
Despite all weather, a weathered homeless guy would sit in front of the church looking for money, with a
sign that said, and I quote, "I'm hungry I got AIDS please". He always comes every day to look for spare change, but then
on Thanksgiving, he doesn't turn up. Liam actually searches the surrounding area to check where he is, but the man is gone.
Okay, sit down, this part was kinda well-done. I'm good.
But then it cuts to an abrupt mention that Liam's dad, about a year later, is living in a cottage in New
Jersey. And he has AIDS, and...well, it was so awkward to go from one bit to another, especially since it was written like
a horror movie trailer.
That was fast. The second chapter is called "Secrets" because Paula Fox seems unable to think of better
chapter titles. Hey, did you know "Secrets" was Robert Palmer's fifth album? The original 1979 CD pressing is so rare that
the few copies in good condition are usually sold in the thousands. Stop, stop, I need to write an article about Palmer,
or at least stop listening to Palmer while I read bad books.
So, on a morning a few days after Liam's thirteenth birthday, his "landscape architect" dad left to go to the
Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and Liam's about to go visit a friend at a museum. His mom calls him into the other room and starts
to explain that "your father is very sick." Liam reacts like this:
Her head was bent over the table as she gathered toast
crumbs with one hand. The sound irritated him.
"Why don't you use a sponge?" he asked.
Jesus, kid. You've already been told that your dad is gonna die, and at this point, it could be malaria,
cancer, anything. And your self-absorbed ass is more focused on how your mom scrapes up crumbs nervously.
Liam keeps it up while his sobbing mom tries to explain, and eventually she manages to explain that the
blood transfusion he got for his appendix surgery was "tainted". His mom
hugs him weirdly and tells him to ask his father, and he goes out. Liam meets his asshole friend at the museum, several minutes
late, and Luther proposes they go watch people downtown. He wants to show Liam that, and I promise I'm not just putting words
together, that people sway when they walk because the earth wobbles. While I'd rather read a book about two kids who study
a mysteriously jiggly planet, Liam abandons his friend to go home.
His mom doesn't know much about the whole sickness, and she starts warming up when he just leaves the room
and goes to lie in his bedroom. He does some great things like organize books and eat crackers, and considers calling his
semi-girlfriend Delia. A few hours later, his dad comes home, and he overhears his parents talking.
"Take him for a walk, will you?" his mother said coldly.
"Don't talk to him about it in here." Then, her voice louder, "Not in our home."
Toontown Tip: If someone you know is dying slowly of AIDS, try not to be a complete bitch.
So his dad takes him to the park and explains he's going to die of AIDS. Liam acts like someone farted,
and recalls some sort of story from "the South" about a kids who had the syndrome and had his house burned down, like a bastardized
rendition of Ryan White's story. His dad's talking about the plants he saw at the garden when he blurts out the story. In
his mind, he claims that "blood transfusions were safe now", so someone
must be lying. OF COURSE
The family returns to have a tremendously awkward dinner, and Liam privately asks if his father did drugs
or something for another source of the disease. Things are okay for a few weeks, except for when he wakes up to hear his mother
giving his father shit for having AIDS. Then his father announces he's moving to a little New Jersey cottage, which his mother
approves, and Liam freaks out, and...shit, I just feel so bad for the dad. He's got a fatal disease and his family can only
talk to him with high-pitched screams.
Anyway, everybody hates each other, and Liam's mom insists she tell anybody who asks that her husband has
cancer. His dad moves away, and mysteriously (as Fox insists) they only go to visit him two months later. Visiting activities
include talking awkwardly and making soup. One day, Liam's dad tells him he saw an eagle, and it triggers a resurrected memory
of an eagle kite he got when he was ten. He forces himself to leave.
Liam's memory is that he and his parents are staying at a cottage in the summer, and Kid Liam is playing
with his eagle kite. Liam goes near the beach and sees his dad walking with a rather buff blonde younger man, and these bros
are getting cuddly as hell. Kid Liam proves to be just as big a spaz as he is at thirteen, and turns and runs the other way,
later destroying his kite just to stick it to his dad. When his dad does come home, he quietly tells him, "That was a friend I ran into...Geoff." Liam turns into a golem.
Back this douchetruck up, I've got a problem. Your characters seem to be insisting that you can only get
AIDS through blood transfusions, drugs, and gay sex. And only that kind of sex. Could this book not be about a man
who has another woman and gets the disease? I told my thirteen-year-old brother what this book was about, and his actual words
were, "That's horrible."
There's a bit of introspective into Liam's school education about sex, so at least Luther and Delia know
that anybody can get AIDS. He reads about the disease at the library every single day from the same book, consistently freaked
out by "brain seizures" as a symptom. Liam ponders his father's sexual orientation in the library and scares an old man.
Liam's aunt comes over for Thanksgiving, and we learn that everybody has ignored his dad...wait, his name
is Phillip...and his aunt is apparently the world's biggest she-ass. Well, not really from one aspect, since she gets mad
that Liam's going on a bus to visit his dad, and she just finished cooking all this food for three people. But then all sympathy
is dynamited once she insists Liam take his own washcloths and cups to avoid getting the disease. She then adds it's possible
through tears, too, since it's also a bodily fluid.
I'm about halfway through this book and I hate most of the main characters. Paula Fox, I know not what other
genres you can write, but don't you dare ever write about AIDS again, because this book is only slightly less painful than
a prostate massager made of hornets.
This is called "The Two Women", although I'm surprised that they didn't blend into each other by now and
become one jellied mass of Toxic Annoying Whore. The acronym is "TAW", for the shriek of victory either woman makes when her
talons pierce a fresh human infant.
"Well - and how are the two women?"
This is the first line in the chapter. Fuck you, Fox.
His dad's adopted a cat named Julius, and Liam just...just acts like a bastard. Here's his father whom
is dying of goddamn AIDS asking how his wife and sister are, and his son's just flailing around screaming about how much
he hates everything. Worse yet, people have secrets so obvious and stupid that they can't just tell them aloud. And this is
irritation from a writing aspect, but the only physical description we've gotten for a character is that Delia has "dark hair". Describing how wiry Liam's dad has gotten doesn't count.
Philip tries to make conversation outside the extremely awkward son thing. He points out the bread he bought
and starts crying a little, mentioning that his "friend" died a little while
ago. Sweet lord, this man needs a hug. He's dying, and he watched his lover die. Liam, will you stop being such an oozing
vagina and be nice to your poor dad?
But no, Liam doesn't stop, and it's hours later when he starts to feel a bit bad. Philip finally offers
to take him for a drive, Liam regurgitates a pellet, and his father is visibly wounded. Anyway, they go to an old slave graveyard.
When Liam gets back to the car, his father is smoking.
"Since when do you smoke?" Liam asked.
"I just took it up," Philip said coolly.
What would that...why would...um. That's really weird.
I can't help but notice that Fox's whole writing style goes like, "Dialogue", Character past tense verbed.
It's obnoxiously repetitive and it's starting to grind on my brain.
Liam starts kicking at the ground when they get home, and screams at his dad that he remembers Geoff. He
even goes as far as to claim that he's destroyed the family and throws homophobic insults until his dad goes into the
house. Liam is a whiny baby alone outside for a bit until a little old lady drives up. Her name is Sigurd "Sig" Mottley and
she's been helping Philip for the past few months.
She rested a hand as light as a leaf on his shoulder.
"He wants to go to Ireland with you," she said softly. "But you won't count on that, will you? Poor man. AIDS is the pits."
Liam, you can of diarrhea, you just wailed on your dad even though HE'S DYING AND WANTS TO TAKE YOU
TO EUROPE BEFORE HE DIES
"AIDS is the pits"? Sigurd & Fox, what the fuck must be wrong with your brain before that seems
like a sensible statement?
Liam feels like an anus as Sigurd goes into the house with a lot of reading material on Ireland, and a careless
reference to the Irish civil war. Sigurd turns out to be the only person Philip has who doesn't want to spew digestive juices
on him, and she even offers to come by with some Thanksgiving dinner from her church group. Liam turns it down because his
only character trait is a fart.
Eventually Philip and Liam are able to sit in the same room and get along, and Philip had to give up on
writing his book because he didn't have the energy. It's totally broken when Liam implies he couldn't see Philip until two
months after, and there's more fighting. Philip also calls his sister "naturally
unkind". If you guys all hate that woman, why do you keep inviting her over?!
"You never said a word?" his father asked wonderingly.
"How have you kept it to yourself all this time?"
"Get off my back, will you?" Liam said. "What do you care?"
This is the exchange that takes place after Philip learns his son never told anybody about the beach date
with Geoff. Oh, and his dad now has a blotch of Kaposi's Sarcoma, so Liam, I hope you get hit by an ice road truck carrying
a large capsule of fire ants.
It turns out the reason they didn't visit the first two months is because Philip was caring for Geoff there
until he died of the disease himself.
Liam was silent a moment. A shameful gladness filled him.
Paula Fox, were you seriously intending for this book to be read by kids with a dying relative? If
that's so, I believe now that you're a robot that runs on fallen tears of the innocent. Philip, Sigurd and the cat are the
only people attempting to defend Philip from these assholes, and I'm honestly shocked this book wound up getting so many rave
reviews from schoolboards as an encouraging novel for teens!
Liam, right now, is having a Rei Ayanami-esque trip through random words and places, except Rei's contemplative
moments actually developed her character. This little fuck-crouton goes as far as to refer to his dad in his mind as a "faggot", but what if this guy is just bisexual? Maybe he struck up an affair with
a man after he got tired of his wife oozing poisonous venom on his skin during coitus.
They get takeout spaghetti, and Liam finally notices that his father is having the worst time trying to
eat, and actually feels bad. Isn't it just dandy that it took the main character 60% of the book to finally
feel bad for his AIDS-infected father?
Philip turned on the faucet to extinguish the cigarette.
"God! It tastes awful! I think I'll give it up."
Why the hell did you start smoking in the first place, chief? Things are just happening in this book. I
don't know what anybody is supposed to look like, everybody but Philip's personalities can just be summed up with one emotion,
and we know nothing about how Geoff and Philip's affair started. Does Fox just believe that any man even close to "bisexual"
just turns into an unbiased flesh vacuum for dicks? Her idea of a gay man's body includes a water balloon for semen in place
of all torso-based organs, all sheathed in an outfit that resembles a Lisa Frank backpack. I wish I was Seanbaby
at times like these so I could think of more than one way to tell Paula Fox to go fuck herself.
The two are having a hearty discussion on lies again and Philip doesn't find anything wrong
with Liam's assumption that affair-with-man = AIDS instantly. They disagree with each other for another three pages before
shit cools down with Philip telling a story about Liam wondering about stars as a kid. We get cluttered bits of character
data, and Philip somehow compares coming out of the closet to being stuck underwater.
I've never been so happy to turn a page and find the chapter is over.
It's taken me eight hours to re-read this godforsaken piece of shit, since I have to keep stopping to clear
the fuck out of my mind. I've been playing the same damn Lupin III song over and over to act as a condom against this crusty,
filthy mess of a novel. I don't remember how this book ends and I don't think I have any enthusiasm to reach it...I can relate
my feelings on this book to a remark made by the Angry Video Game Nerd in his review of Little Red Hood
"And I'm still playing it. I don't even know why; I guess
I can't resist being able to say I beat [it]. And you know what? I don't expect a good ending either. Why work hard on creating
an elaborate ending when you've made [it] so hard to figure out that there's not a chance in hell anyone would get that far?"
This chapter is called "The Plague" because it's what this book feels like. I'll make creative insults when
my brain stops screaming.
So, we cut to Christmas time for Liam, and Philip sends him a letter letting him know that he'll be really
busy on Christmas and to come down in March. It's emphasized that Philip is "busy" trying to restore his health enough for
a trip with Liam in March, and that just makes me feel sad. Anyway, Aunt Mary managed to drag herself out of her swamp and
come visit, and they decorate a Christmas tree in what has to be one of the most painfully awkward and depressing teen novel
Also, Fox, this is completely unfair. You named the drooling bitch the same name of one of my best friends.
Couldn't you have named her something like "Bertha" or "Wilhelmina", something naturally obnoxious that nobody names their
Anyways, Liam's mom (whom is named a while ago as Katherine, and I keep imagining the game character
) knows nothing of the letter and suggests visiting Philip in a week, so at least she's not poisonous enough to avoid visiting
her gay husband's happy shack in the holiday season. Katherine and Liam leave their despicable bitch in the apartment, go
on the subway and get some tacos. They get back hours later and have dinner with Aunt Assnuts. Then, hours later, what happens
is the absolute worst moment in a book I've ever read:
"What phone call?" his mother asked.
Aunt Mary yawned. "It was when you were out. Some person
named Sig. She said my brother had to go to the hospital again."
"Mary! My God! Philip doesn't just go to the hospital
to get a pill! How could you not tell us! Liam, go get the address book on my night table."
"He's always going to the hospital," Aunt Mary said resentfully.
Your brother, whom is dying of AIDS, went to the hospital and YOU CHOOSE TO AVOID TELLING HIS WIFE AND CHILD
THAT HIS CONDITION HAS WORSENED UNTIL NINE HOURS AFTER YOU'RE TOLD. Then, none of you skidmarks have a car so YOU CAN'T VISIT
HIM UNTIL THE NEXT DAY. YOU PEOPLE ARE THE WORST MAIN CHARACTERS IN ANY BOOK I'VE
These ugly asses finally get down to the hospital and learn Philip has advanced Lymphoma in many of his
organs. Liam goes in to talk to him while Aunt Murdery wonders why the state of New York would dare hire a doctor from India.
I can't seriously describe the subsequent pages. I've come to find Philip the one likeable character in
this book, and here, he's withered and slowly dies by page 112. Katherine and Liam finally come through for him, but...a few
pages later and these bastards are all fighting again, except with the addition of Liam's senile grandfather.
This is the second time I've read this book, but the first time I've sat down and analyzed what a big bag
of fuck it is.
Luther and Liam are walking into Greenwich Village, talking about birds they want as pets. A bit of backstory
explains that Liam's been living awkwardly with his mom and friends for a few months, and Philip has all but faded away from
their lives. Out on the street, Luther sees a boy walk by in "soft trousers"
and a fluffy vest, and Luther starts laughing. Liam twists his arm and demands that he not "ever
laugh at him", and Luther calls him the other f-word. They beat the shit out of each other in the road and
Liam goes home.
Liam goes home and tells Katherine about his memory, and she already knows Geoff's full name was Geoff Chaffee,
and he worked with Philip once when they were doing a "garden planning". Katherine met him once when she went to visit. She
suggests that she and Liam should use their spring break to go to Ireland, which maybe they should have done back when Philip
She does mention, however, that she planted Philip's ashes among a Japanese maple tree at the Brooklyn Botanical
Garden. Liam asks to see the tree sometime, and the book ends.