This is an emotionally charged read. There is just no other way to say it. The main character has a life that begins with little chance of improvement but it is clear from the beginning that this is not a hopeless story and that there is good inside Tommy if he can just get it to the surface. Tommy suffers the terrible tragedy of watching his younger brother be removed from his home. Spending the rest of his life riddled with guilt that as a young boy Tommy did not prevent the loss of his brother, something he could not possibly have done, provides the foundation for the emotional rollercoaster.
The characters in the book are very well written; they are not good people and yet they are most memorable. Obviously, their circumstances explain a lot of the bad aspects but there are a few characters, like Annie, that shine through the negative. This provides and supports the idea that there is always some silver lining if you can only see it. Written with a sharp edge that never sugarcoats the situation, the book is at times hard to swallow but well worth the read as it deals with a long list of real issues that the marginalized deal with daily.
Even though it is challenging emotionally the book is really very well written and worth any unpleasant reaction you may have to the lives of the characters. It opens up a world that most of us will never know and will leave you grateful for what you have and wondering how it can get so awful for others. I do think it is important to note that this is far different from other books by the same author but this simply demonstrates the strength of his writing abilities.