The book opens with Josh and Joey waking up at 3:45AM. Josh was about to deliver papers on a cold October morning. Despite Joey’s offer of help, Josh left his offer unanswered and got up. Even if his paper route didn’t bring in much money, it was still very helpful for their family. Josh found his mother in the kitchen; she prepared some milk for him before he went about his paper route. She used to teach kids how to play piano, but ever since people stopped having enough money for luxuries such as music, she started taking in jobs for ironing clothes in the laundry a few blocks down. Josh’s father frowned upon any man who made a living out of music, despite the fact that he met Josh’s mother because of their common love for it. It was 1932 and Josh was fifteen years old. He had been clashing with his father. During his early years, he was treated like a prince, being his father’s first son. Kitty, his half-sister from his dad’s first marriage was quiet and was treated kindly by their dad. When he was five years old, Joey was born. Their hard times started because of his sickly nature. That was around the same time that Josh felt that all his father’s love for him has already left. He loved his sister Kitty and his mother very much. By 1932, his dad has lost all his pride and became more hostile towards him. Josh had made a vow that he’ll be patient with his father, just as what his mother had suggested.
When Josh returned from his paper route, he found his parents sitting in the kitchen. He was shivering, as he had forgotten to wear the jacket that his mother laid out for him. This angered his father, because if Josh got sick, they’d have more things to worry about. Josh was about to fire back when he saw his mother’s pleading face and decided to stay quiet. His father apologized to his mother instead and left. Josh didn’t feel like eating any breakfast and asked his mother not to fix him anything or else it might just choke him. He went up to his room and by the time he went back down, his mother had fixed him a sandwich before he went to school.
Penn High School was Josh’s refuge. He always played the piano and shared it with Howie. They both had the same love for music. With music, Josh forgets every hardship he had at home. Everyday, he and Howie would shut the door to the music room and played music endlessly. Howie was a boy that’s full of sorrows. He had never known his father and his mother was a drunk. Despite this, he was someone who was eager to smile and laugh. Howie was Josh’s only friend in high school. That afternoon, they were practicing a piece that they have worked on together. Miss Crowne, the music teacher, would glow every time she heard the boys play that piece. Josh was feeling angry because of how carefree nature seemed on the outside world. However, as soon as Howie arrived, his mood changed for the better. When Miss Crowne entered the room, she looked rather grey and tired, but was teary-eyed from their music. She praised the two boys for their talent. She sent them off home and reminded them that they still had homework to do. They both didn’t want her to go, mostly because they didn’t want to go home to their families just yet. Before bidding each other goodbye, they made plans to meet up by the corner drugstore during the evening. Howie asked Josh to bring Joey along; he wanted to give the little boy a jigsaw puzzle.
Joey was treated as golden boy because of his fragility and his handsome features. However, Josh still had a bit of resentment towards him being born. Joey idolized Josh and saw him as someone who had great strength and intelligence.
That afternoon, when Josh got home, he found Joey feeding some milk to a stray cat. Joey gave him an explanation that he got a nickel from Kitty as a birthday present and got some milk for the cat. He reminded Joey to just give the nickel to their mother the next time he gets one. Joey looked scared and asked Josh if he’s going to tell on him. Josh shook his head and told him that they already had enough troubles at home. When they got inside the house, they found Kitty crying and their dad standing over her. She was crying about not getting a job. Their father reprimanded her to try harder so that she could make a living for their family. That was the first time Josh saw his dad being mean towards Kitty. That night, as his sister cried, he thought about his dad and if he had ever been capable of loving anyone. They remained quiet throughout dinner, until Josh decided to ask for second servings of potato. His father got angry with this while his mother tried to soothe him. His dad got up and went out the house, Kitty ran up to her room, and Joey sat on the steps outside. Josh argued with his mom about how his dad is treating them. Josh blurted out that things might be better if he got his own place instead. His mother nodded and told him that he was making things harder for her. Instead of feeling self-pity because both of his parents had rejected him, Josh felt excited and was breathless by the time he arrived at the corner drugstore to wait for Howie.
Notes: The hardships of Josh’s family, as well as his personal troubles were opened. His drive to get out and avoid his father was also tackled.