Chapter 6: The Defiant One
Dave decides that in order to survive, he must make himself hard and not care about anything. He starts stealing candy bars from the local grocery store, and then toy models. Other kids get to hear of his exploits and come and watch him steal. They dare him to steal things for them. Dave enjoys the attention and feels accepted by the other kids.
He steals a Flying Fortress model airplane for a boy named Johnny Jones. But Johnny has played a trick on him. His father is the store manager, and Dave is caught. When Dave returns home, his foster parents have been informed of his stealing, and they are furious with him. Rudy threatens to send him to The Hill, although he does not explain what that is. Rudy says he will not tolerate thieving and lying, and he grounds Dave and sends him to his room.
A few days later, on a Saturday, Dave decides he is going to run away. He rides his bike into town and watches a James Bond movie three times in a row. He spends the night underneath an air-conditioning unit near the movie theater. The next day he spends at the movie theater again, and then hangs around Denny’s restaurant. The manager talks to him and calls his foster parents. Rudy comes to pick him up.
The next day Ms. Gold comes to see him and discusses with him the serious situation. She has been informed that he has been having a hard time adjusting to living with Lilian and Dave. She tells him that his behavior must improve. Dave indicates that one of the reasons he is upset is because he has not heard from his father. He writes letters to his dad but hears nothing back. He does not have his father’s telephone number. Ms. Gold tells him his father has moved to a another apartment and been transferred to a different fire station. Ms. Gold promises to try to get in touch with him, and Dave eventually promises not to run away again.
Dave starts to feel better, but when he starts sixth grade he is teased and picked on by other boys, who notice his clothes are not as nice or as new as theirs. But then he meets a boy called John, who wears worn-out clothes but no one picks on him.
The next day John is upset because a teacher has scolded him in front of the class. He says he has a plan to get even with the teacher. That afternoon after school John, who is with two other boys, tells Dave he is to be admitted to his gang, but he has to prove himself by flattening the tires of the teacher’s car. The teacher’s name is Mr. Smith. Dave does not want to do it because he knows it is wrong. He finally agrees to do it and lets the air out of one tire but then refuses to continue. The next day he is taunted by the other kids because he is considered to have betrayed John and his gang.
After a few weeks, Dave apologizes to John and gives him a carton of cigarettes he stole. John accepts him into the gang but he must still prove himself. John says he wants to burn down Mr. Smith’s classroom and he wants Dave to act as look out. Dave agrees, thinking Dave is not serious. Weeks go by and nothing happens but Dave starts boasting about the plan he and John have developed. After a while he starts saying that it is his plan and he will do it.
More weeks go by, but then John summons him after school. Dave finds John in the classroom, and black smoke is pouring out of an air vent that has been kicked in. John says he needs help in putting out the fire, but then he gets scared and runs away. Dave tries to put the fire out but it gets worse. He asks a little girl to pull the fire alarm, and eventually he puts the fire out by throwing gravel on it. A fire truck arrives.
The next day Mr. Smith takes Dave to the principal’s office. The principal tells him he has already been identified as the one who started the fire. He sends Dave to wait in another room while he calls the police and Dave’s foster parents.
Dave runs off and finds John. He tells John that he must tell the authorities the truth about the fire. John reluctantly agrees to admit that he was the one who started it. Dave does not go home that night. The next day when he sees John, John tells him he told the principal that Dave started the fire, and it was Dave’s idea.
Confused and not knowing what to do, Dave returns home. Rudy yells at him and does not believe his protestations of innocence. He has lost patience with Dave, and although Lillian tries to defend him, Rudy says he can no longer allow Dave to live with them because he is always getting into serious trouble.
Twelve-year-old Dave is close to being out of control for most of this chapter. One of the themes of the book is his quest to belong, to be a part of a loving family. He seems at this point, though, unable to adapt to living with Lilian and Rudy. Desperate to be accepted by his peers, he allows himself to be tricked into doing wrong things, such as stealing from grocery stores. There is no doubt that he is naÔve, easily manipulated by more ruthless boys who only feign friendship. His desire to be part of a gang, though, is entirely understandable. He has never had a real friend, so it is not surprising that he falls for the plot laid by the malicious John, who is the real troublemaker. But somehow Dave is landed with the blame. This episode repeats something of the pattern that Dave’s earlier home life showed. The person he thought he could trust betrays him.
As the chapter closes, it is yet another crisis for Dave. Now that the police and school authorities are involved, he is in danger of being labeled uncontrollable with violent and criminal tendencies. Even Rudy has lost patience with him. Lilian, however, as the next chapter will show, remains loyal to him, giving him a thread of continuity in his deeply disturbed and unhappy life.
Chapter 7: Mother’s Love
Rudy drives Dave to Hillcrest, San Mateo County Juvenile Hall, where Dave is to stay temporarily. He occupies a cell by himself and tries to stay out of trouble. In his first week there, six fights break out between the teenagers who live there. Dave is then transferred to another wing where discipline is less strict.
He is visited by his father, whom he has not seen for about a year. His father yells at him and berates him for stealing and getting into all kinds of trouble. He also says that his wife has been badgering him to sign some papers regarding Dave, but he does not explain what they are. He tells Dave he is to be charged with arson. This especially upsets Dave’s father because he is a firefighter. He tells Dave that he can forgive him many things but not this.
That evening Dave is distressed. He thinks that he is the cause of the family’s unhappiness. After dinner he receives a visit from Lilian. She tells him that his mother is trying to get him confined to a mental institution permanently. That explains the papers his father was talking about. Lilian suspects that Dave’s mother has been inventing stories about him to justify having him put away. His mother knows everything that has happened involving Dave since he was taken away from her. She apparently knows that the psychiatrist wrote a report saying that Dave had “violent behavior tendencies” and that Dave, according to the psychiatrist, had nearly attacked him. Dave denies it. Lilian further explains to Dave that he will be placed in a mental institution if his mother can convince the county authorities that what she says about him is true. Lilian says that she and Rudy, who are still his official foster parents, will do everything they can to prevent this from happening. She tells Dave he must be on his best behavior, as the counselors write behavior reports that are given to his new probation officer, Gordon Hutchenson.
She produces a box in which she has placed Dave’s pet redear turtle and tells him she has been looking after it carefully.
That night Dave resolves that he is going to prove to everyone that he is a good kid. His behavior improves and by the end of the week he has earned a gold rating: the highest that the institution awards. His probation officer is pleased with him.
In a few days the court case comes up. Dave’s mother is there. The prosecutor says Dave committed arson and has a long history of rebellious behavior and has also displayed aggressive behavior toward others.
Dave’s lawyer attempts to refute the allegations, saying that in fact, Dave tried to put out the fire that had been started by someone else. His behavior while in detention has been exceptional, and Lilian and Rudy want him back.
After another speech from the opposing lawyer, who asks that Dave be placed under psychiatric evaluation, Gordon the probation officer is called upon. He recommends that Dave be returned to his foster parents.
The judge sentences Dave to 100 days of juvenile detention, honoring time already served. He says he has no actual proof that Dave committed arson although he thinks Dave may have done it. Dave protests to Gordon that he is innocent, but Gordon tells him he will be out in about thirty days and that he has got off lightly. Dave’s mother intervenes, telling Gordon that he is wrong, and that Dave is evil.
Thirty-four days later, Dave goes home. He feels almost sorry to leave, since he had got to feeling safe at the detention center.
This chapter describes a close call for young Dave, but he is given another chance. It is apparent from this chapter that Dave can succeed when he is given an incentive to do so. He knows how to behave well when it is impressed upon him how much depends on it.
This chapter also records a complete breakdown in Dave’s relationship with his father. The father has played little role in the book so far, other than to fail to show up when Dave is expecting him to visit. His father’s role in Dave’s life is chronicled in more detail in the first book in the series, A Child Called It, which shows that his father is too weak to stand up to his wife, even though he knows that the abuse of Dave is wrong. But even after Dave is taken away from the family home, as The Lost Boy shows, his father does little or nothing to support his son. Dave frantically tries to get in touch with him, writing him letters but never receiving replies. When his father finally does visit him, all he can do is complain that Dave has brought disgrace on the family by being an arsonist. He does not think to give Dave the benefit of the doubt. It is clear that Dave does not have a father in any meaningful sense of the word. The steady decline of his father, ravaged by alcoholism, will be taken up again in a later chapter.
Immediately after his father leaves, Lilian returns. She is his ray of hope. If his mother is plotting against him for some strange reasons of her own, Lilian is a mother substitute who is worthy of the name. It is she who gives Dave the “mother’s love” that is the title of the chapter. It is as if there are two mothers in the story, the “bad” mother and the “good” mother. To Dave’s credit, he recognizes this, and at the end of the chapter he calls Lilian “mom.”