The boundary between boyhood and adulthood isn’t the only one Liam’s poised on; he’s also teetering between good kid, like his friend Max, and dangerous wild kid, like his old chum Gordon Nattrass. When Liam and Max miraculously find an abandoned baby, the little girl, later named Alison, leads Liam in strange new directions, beginning with his unexpected bonding with two older kids in her foster home, one a rebellious girl, and the other a boy seeking asylum from the Liberian civil war. After the foster home is disbanded, baby Alison comes to live with Liam’s family, and the other two foster children leave their new homes to find Liam. Nattrass’ interest in violence starts to focus on the possibility of these kids’ local arrival, but a meeting between Liam, Nattrass, and the two runaways reveals that violence may tantalize most when it’s least known. It’s that border between civilization and violence that underpins the book, a tension that provides a common thread as the plot brings together otherwise disparate elements. Different characters provide different takes on that tension: Liam’s sedentary writer dad wants vicarious wildness from his son, Liam’s mother champions love over chaos (even as her art reveals her own interest in nature gone feral and damaging), Nattrass believes his bloodlust is merely that of the world, while the Liberian refugee reveals a hidden past that demonstrates that real, sustained, unromanticized violence is an experience none of the safe contemplaters of the dark side are really prepared to face. Almond atmospherically employs the bleak Northumbrian countryside and the contemporary military realities, which seep through in the news and in the military [End Page 232] jets training overhead, to effectively underscore the eternal truth of humanity’s tendency to self-harm, making for a sinister atmosphere that carries the book along even when the point of the plot becomes somewhat elusive. Readers may not be clear on the ultimate message here, but they’ll find the journey thought-provoking and suspenseful.