Here’s how it starts: Vardaman is chased by two older boys and he jumps into the elevator shaft and reaches for the steel cable and catches it, seven stories high, but his hands are slipping. He can barely hang on. The elevator is broken because the building is in Chicago, the Cabrini-Green projects, and because the older boys run the building no one wants to venture inside to fix things. The steel fibers rip into Vardaman’s fingers and he falls, bruised but alive, one more escape.
Not everything fits a label. Vardaman is smart and he does well in second grade. His mother checks his assignments when she gets back from her day shift at the nursing home, and it is there, after work one day, that she meets the wealthy and white middle-aged son of one of the patients. He introduces himself, approaches her as she’s bending over the engine of her car that won’t start and offers to help, attracted to her youth and exotic beauty. She accepts his help, attracted to his polite scent of money and perhaps a path for her and her son out from the projects.
And so begins their cautious but quickened dance of daring as Alexander expands his boundaries and Linda tests the limits of her own. And watching it all is Vardaman, confused by what his mother is doing, afraid of what the brothers will think of her being with a white man, and maybe taking it out on him, and all he wants is for it to be ended.
This is a novel about three persons exploring who each one of them really is – in their separate grips of age and race and money – and where their innocence might reside and their happiness might be found.