The End of the Line by Angela Cerrito
Robbie is in middle school and has a pretty typical life in The End of the Line by Angela Cerrito. His mom runs a day care business from their home, his dad goes to work, and his beloved Uncle Grant--almost ready for deployment to Iraq--trains with Robbie to run long distance. A new boy named Ryan comes to town and befriends Robbie, and Robbie reluctantly accepts Ryan's friendship. Ryan's home life is very different from Robbie's. His mother is in the "hospital," and he hasn't seen his younger sister in months. He lives with his grandparents in a dilapidated old house that is on the verge of being condemned-- so much so that his house is regarded by the other teens in town as a haunted house. He rarely has any food available--certainly none to share when he has a friend over.
Robbie is encouraged by his parents to maintain a friendship with Ryan, as it seems to his parents that Ryan's home life is less than ideal. While sleeping over one night, Ryan convinces Robbie to sneak out of the house and off to a construction site. The boys trespass on the site, and Ryan seems determined to push the envelope and live life on the edge of acceptable behavior.
Meanwhile, Uncle Grant gets deployed to Iraq, and soon Robbie and his family have to deal with some devastating news. This emotional sledgehammer hits Robbie just as his friendship with Ryan is teetering out of control. Emotions hit the fan when Ryan does something that dishonors Uncle Grant. Robbie reacts in anger, and the end result is tragic.
This story is told from Robbie's point of view, and the chapters alternate between the present and the past. The true story as to why Robbie is being held in a juvenile detention center unfolds chapter by chapter for the reader. The relationship between Ryan and Robbie is tenuous and fragile. This book is engaging without being didactic, and it provides a good look for the reader as to what can happen in an instant of impulsive behavior. The story moves at a fast clip, but the characters are well developed. The other residents in the detention center provide an interesting juxtapostion to Robbie's previously quiet life. The End of the Line also gives a look at teen incarceration without too much of the raw reality. It is well suited for a middle-school reader.