How serious are you, really, when you promise something? Your honor is at stake when you promise, as Joel learned after he and his friend Tony swam in the treacherous Vermillion River. Joel's father had said:
"On your honor? ... You'll watch for traffic and you won't go anywhere except the park? You'll be careful the whole way?"On the way to the park, however, Tony dared Joel to swim in the river they had promised never to go near -- and Tony disappeared in the water. Joel tried to find Tony, even got help from a passing teenager. But Tony could not be found.
"On my honor," Joel repeated, and he crossed his heart, solemnly, then raised his right hand (p. 8).
Joel was devastated, but he was also terrified at the thought of having to tell his parents and -- worse -- Tony's mother. So he didn't tell. And the longer he waited, the harder it was to admit what they had done. Joel tried to carry on that afternoon, rolling and delivering newspapers on his route, pretending he didn't know where Tony was, but he wanted to yell at Tony and struggled with his feelings:
Why did he feel so responsible, as though he had pushed Tony in? Why did he always have to feel responsible for everything that happened? If they had gone climbing on the bluffs and he, Joel, had fallen, Tony wouldn't have blamed himself. Would he? (p. 66)Yet Joel was also feeling protective of his little brother, thinking he "would have to teach Bobby how to swim" (p. 67). Near the end of that awful day, Joel learned something he hadn't known when Tony's mother said,
"Tony can't swim. He's know better than to go near the river."When he got home, Joel wondered:
"He can't swim?" Joel asked... "Really?" (p. 71)
Why hadn't Tony thought about his mother, about the way she worried, before he had decided to go for a swim? (p. 72)But he still couldn't bring himself to tell the adults what had happened. This wasn't the first time I'd read this book. Both times through the book I was thinking like any parent:
"It's the not-knowing that's the worse" (p. 70).What Joel's father said, after everyone knew what had happened, are the words I'll remember:
"Nothing could change what had happened ... ever" (p. 82).
"But we all made choices today, Joel. You, me, Tony. Tony's the only one who doesn't have to live with his choice" (p. 88).I rate this Young Adult novel 10/10, a book I couldn't put down.