The Loved One
The Loved One
In 2002, an Amherst principal is accused of making sexual comments to a student, and loses custody of his adopted son. Nine years later, a man is killed on a Beverly playground. Are the events connected by an awful secret?
By Chris Vogel | Boston Magazine | August 2012
Sage Christensen. (Photo Illustration by Josue Evilla)
Sage Christensen hurries across the railroad tracks toward Balch Park. It’s St. Patrick’s Day 2011, and Sage is wearing a dark-green T-shirt that nearly matches the color of his eyes. As he makes his way down a narrow side street under the glow of the almost-full moon, his heart is hammering inside his chest. He’s just 5-foot-7 and around 120 pounds, but he’s on his way to a fight.
Two hours earlier, Sage had been hanging out with his ex-girlfriend Melissa Hicks and his friend Adam Martin, both fellow residents of the Blaine House, a rickety two-story Victorian in Beverly that operates a program for troubled teens who are working toward independent living. Melissa is 17, a pretty girl with light-brown hair, fine-boned features, and almond-shaped eyes. She and Sage, who’s 18, had recently broken up, but she’d convinced him to come to a friend’s apartment for a St. Paddy’s Day get-together. Adam, 17, had tagged along.
At the party, Melissa and Adam drank heavily from a bottle of raspberry Smirnoff, though Sage, at least by some accounts, took it easy. Melissa had gotten the alcohol from a man named JP Vernazzaro, a 26-year-old occasional drug dealer and known tough guy who was sometimes called the “king of the neighborhood.” Vernazzaro also seemed to have a thing for Melissa. In fact, the three teens hadn’t been at the party long before Melissa got a call from him asking her to come to his place, where people were drinking and listening to music. Sage eventually ended up on the phone with Vernazzaro, and the conversation quickly escalated into swearing and threats. There was an agreement to meet at nearby Balch Park to settle the dispute. Sage and Adam left the party and made their way to the park. On the way, they stopped at a Burger King and asked a group of guys from the neighborhood for help. There were no takers. Vernazzaro was a feared brawler who had seven inches and at least 100 pounds on Sage. Everyone figured it was going to be a short fight.
Sage and Adam departed the Burger King and headed to Blaine House, where they stopped for a couple of minutes before setting out for the park. Adam was carrying a baseball bat, and Sage had a knife.
Sage Christensen entered the world on January 26, 1993, as Igor Odnohorchenko. He was born in the Ukraine, the youngest of Volodymyr and Olena Odnohorchenko’s five children.
The Ukraine at the time was not easy living. The Soviet Union had collapsed two years before Igor’s birth, disintegrating into 15 chaotic countries. Food shortages were common, and law enforcement was sporadic at best. Inflation was rampant, and the economy got so bad that astrophysicists were making just $3 a month.
Ukrainian court documents state that Igor’s parents were addicted to alcohol. They were also violent. According to accounts Igor would later give, his mother and father would often strike each other and his four older siblings, and they once taped him to a chair and beat him. One time, when Igor tried to defend a sister from his parents, his mother leaned in and bit him on the hand, leaving a permanent scar.
In 1998, when Igor was five, his parents took him to an orphanage, a desolate, concrete Soviet-style building. The caregivers there, according to his later accounts, made switches from tree branches and caned the bottoms of his feet. Once, while Igor was in the infirmary, someone poured scalding-hot water on the backs of his calves, resulting in permanent scars.
Igor had been at the orphanage for two years when a stranger turned up one day in 2000. He was American, a teacher named Stephen Myers, and he was looking for a young boy to adopt. Officials at the orphanage would hardly have been surprised by the sudden appearance of a foreigner like Myers. Owing in part to lax regulation, Eastern Europe at the time was overrun with westerners looking for kids. Between 1990 and 2005, more than 70,000 children from the former Soviet Union were adopted by Americans. Myers chose Igor and brought him to his new home in Denver. The adoption was made official in July 2000.
Myers named his new son Sajan, Hindi for the “loved one.”
In 1977, Stephen Myers showed up at the door of a woman in Mountain View, California. She was a single mom raising two boys and a girl, and her older son had been getting into trouble at his high school. Myers, then a 32-year-old administrator at a local middle school, told the woman that he had a lot of experience working with troubled kids and could provide a strong male role model for both boys. He seemed heaven-sent. A year later, when Myers made a 1,000-mile road trip to a teachers’ conference in Albuquerque, the woman sent her younger son, Jon, along with him.
Myers often talked about the satisfaction he got from helping kids who were growing up without a father. He understood what they were going through. He’d been born in Colorado, and according to what he would later tell a friend, he grew up without a father. Myers had gone on to earn a sociology degree from the University of Colorado in 1967, and got his career off to a promising start with teaching positions in California and Indonesia, but he would later say that he’d never overcome his sense of lost childhood or his yearning for a strong male role model.
In 1972 Myers founded the Global Youth Academy in northern California as a summer program for students ages 11 to 18. The academy, which he later renamed Traveling School International, involved Myers leading a collection of misfits and outsiders on month-long summer bicycle tours of the Pacific Northwest. The goal was to emphasize personal growth and development, and Myers later expanded the program, taking pupils to foreign countries without their parents.
Myers’s education techniques were considered unusual but forward-looking at the time. His style was rooted in his earlier involvement in something called Erhard Seminars Training, or EST, which was part of the 1970s human potential movement. Created by the author Werner Erhard, EST held that people are responsible for their own happiness and success. Students were called names and barred from using the bathroom for long stretches, all as a way of stripping them down in order to build them back up. Critics charged that EST could have harmful effects on some people, especially the emotionally unstable, and could lead to psychotic breakdowns.
Former students and staffers recall that Myers’s summer program included events like “Body Awareness Day,” in which students were encouraged to strip down to their underwear as a strategy for confronting and accepting their bodies. Myers would don a tight yellow Speedo. He also led discussions on homosexuality, telling the students that, with their eyes closed, it didn’t matter whether it was a boy or girl who was touching them because it all felt good. Myers liked to boast that his students would reveal to him stories of sexual abuse, rape, and secret abortions. His alternative methods were lauded in the press, with the Los Angeles Times quoting students who credited the program with helping to build their self-esteem. In 1984 the city of Santa Cruz incorporated the program into its public school system (eventually discontinuing it six years later because of curriculum concerns and liability issues), and Myers operated his program privately for more than 25 years, until 1999, when he was unable to secure enough funding to keep it going.
Shortly after the Traveling School disbanded, Myers took a job as principal of a charter school in Denver and adopted Sajan, who came to be known as Sage. In 2001 they moved to the western Massachusetts town of Amherst, where Myers had taken a job as principal of Amherst Regional High School. Sage began attending school and calling Myers “Dad.” He learned to speak English by watching television, and had his own bed in his own room.
Whereas the principal Myers was replacing had a reputation among pupils as a taskmaster, Myers preferred a students-first approach. He was quickly embraced by the sons and daughters of the university professors who populated Amherst, a liberal town with a progressive school. But the calm didn’t last.
Myers had been on the job for only a few months when the school committee gathered on January 15, 2002. Parents waiting for the meeting to begin spoke in hushed voices and circulated copies of a letter that superintendent Gus Sayer had written to the mother of a male student. According to Sayer’s letter, Myers had asked to see the student’s nipple, and had told him that he had a hot tub. The superintendent wrote that Myers had also invited the teenager to go to the movies with him and his adopted son. After the meeting was called to order, parents stood up and expressed their outrage, but no resolution was reached that evening.
News of the scandal traveled quickly through town. Newspaper accounts of Myers’s alleged conduct split the community. Many residents feared for their children and wanted Myers gone. Others stood behind the principal. Petitions supporting Myers were signed by nearly 600 students and 100 teachers and staff members. Myers, for his part, denied any wrongdoing.
As they debated how to proceed, school officials and parents held a series of follow-up meetings that lasted for hours, with participants shielding themselves from television-news cameras. Then, before the school came to any conclusions, Myers resigned on January 21, 2002.
Two weeks later, the Daily Hampshire Gazette published a front-page story headlined “Report Reveals Myers Abused Minors.” The article detailed a 1996 Santa Cruz, California, police investigation in which Myers admitted to molesting two teenage boys.
The police investigation had been launched after a man named Dan Thiel filed a complaint in late 1995. Thiel was 12 years old when he first met Myers. It was 1978, and Myers was the principal of a school Thiel was attending in Carbondale, Colorado. Thiel came from a broken home headed by his overwhelmed mother.
When I contact Thiel for this story, he tells me of a camping trip he says Myers took him on when he was 13. “He convinced me to sleep naked in my sleeping bag,” Thiel, now 45, says. “When I awoke, he was fondling my genitals. I told him to stop and he did. It wasn’t until years later that I realized I’d been molested.” When I ask Thiel why he told the police a different version of this story in 1995 — saying that he was wearing clothes when Myers groped him — he says it was because he was still embarrassed.
Not long after that camping trip, Myers left Colorado and moved back to northern California. Over the next two years, Thiel’s family life deteriorated, and in 1982, when Thiel was 15, Myers offered to take him in. “I lived with Steve for years,” Thiel tells me, “and I probably know him better than anyone. He would do drugs with me, smoke pot, take acid.” Thiel says Myers would also talk about his own troubled past, even sharing that a family member had molested him when he was young.
Thiel says that even though Myers touched him during the camping trip when he was 13, Myers made no sexual advances during the time he was living with him. (Through his attorney, Myers refused my requests for interviews.) Still, Thiel says, “He told me he liked boys. I saw him grooming other boys. For me, there is a sense of guilt and responsibility. My role was that of a beard — like, ‘Look at Dan, my foster son. He’s a good athlete, a good student, gregarious and kind.’ Adults trusted him because of me. I was used on so many levels.” And, Thiel says, Myers seemed to target children from troubled families.
Thiel moved out of Myers’s home in 1986, when he was 19. He decided to go to the Santa Cruz cops in late 1995, when he learned that Myers was foster-parenting a four-year-old Romanian boy he was trying to adopt.
Officers met with Myers less than two weeks after Thiel filed his report. According to the police report of that interview, Myers appeared nervous and fidgety, taking frequent breaks. He admitted there had been an incident with Thiel on a 1980 camping trip in Colorado, but downplayed its severity. He also admitted that in 1991 he and a boy, 15 or 16 years old, had engaged in mutual massage and masturbation for about 30 minutes during a Traveling School trip to South Africa. Myers told police that he used to be attracted to boys between 14 and 16 years old, and that he’d been in therapy for four years. He said his therapist had told him he was “cured” and would make a good parent. The police concluded in their report that it was “apparent” that Myers had molested Thiel and the teen in South Africa, but they couldn’t do anything about it because the alleged incidents took place beyond their jurisdiction.
According to the Santa Cruz police report, the Romanian boy was removed from Myers’s care and placed with another foster family. Six months later, the foster mother contacted investigators to report the four-year-old’s disclosures that Myers had engaged in oral sex and sodomy with him and had watched pornographic movies in his presence. According to police documents, officials were unable to file charges because the foster family was moving out of state and decided they did not want to put the boy through the trauma of a prosecution.
As these allegations were reported in newspaper articles, support for Myers quickly dried up in Amherst. The Massachusetts Department of Social Services opened an investigation, and police officers showed up at Myers’s home and removed Sage in January 2002, three days before his ninth birthday.
As Sage and Adam approach Balch Park, news of the impending fight has spread. When the two teens walk through a small parking lot and into the playground, set against a hardscrabble backdrop of North Shore row houses and car dealerships, they’re met by a crowd of spectators on the lush open grass. Standing with the onlookers is Sage’s ex, Melissa Hicks.
Sage and Adam ready themselves, but several minutes pass with no sign of JP Vernazzaro. Sage scans the park. At last, Vernazzaro’s hulking figure flashes under the lights of the basketball court. Seconds later, he’s gone again, disappearing into the shadows as he crosses the unlit baseball field and heads for the group that awaits him.
On the playground grass, Sage and Adam steel themselves. The aluminum bat leans against Adam’s leg. Sage has the knife.
After being taken from Myers, Sage spent the next three years in a blur of foster homes. Myers fought for custody, spending more than $300,000 on attorneys and eventually filing for bankruptcy, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
In June 2005 Sage was adopted by Dean Christensen and Jane Olingy, a married couple in Wilmington. He became Sage Christensen, his third name in 12 years. A social worker told his new parents about his rough upbringing in the Ukraine and about Myers. Sage, they were informed, had recently torn up every picture he had of Myers. “When he first moved in with us,” Jane tells me, “he made sure the doors were locked 24/7, even during the day…. He told us there was always the shadow of a man outside of his window.” At times, Sage went to bed with a knife under his pillow. He had frequent nightmares, and woke his new parents in the middle of the night with his screaming in Russian. Sage’s parents say that he was generally outgoing and playful, but became quiet whenever the subject of Myers arose.
Still, the couple fell in love with the 12-year-old’s teasing sense of humor, quick mind, and desire to be part of a family. Olingy calls their first three years together “the honeymoon.” But when Sage hit puberty, the trouble started. Small and skinny, Sage was picked on. A girl shoved him into a locker during his first day at middle school. Bigger students bullied him. “We told Sage that if you start a fight, we won’t support you,” Christensen says. “But you have to stand up for yourself.”
And Sage did begin to hit back, which led to suspensions and after-school meetings with the assistant principal. By the eighth grade, he was staying out late and becoming increasingly depressed and defiant. The bullying at school continued, and he started writing rap lyrics and poetry, all of it dark and filled with themes of suicide. When Christensen took Sage to Niagara Falls, Sage, remembering that he’d been there with Myers, withdrew into an almost catatonic state and wouldn’t leave their hotel room. “Sage was terrified,” Christensen tells me. “He didn’t want to talk about anything.” Christensen believes there is something “that must have happened that we still don’t know about.”
In the ninth grade, Sage’s nightmares got worse. He began skipping school regularly, and his grades plummeted. A lifelong neat freak, he stopped showering and withdrew from the family. He stayed up until 3 a.m., escaping into the world of Xbox. Finally, in October 2008, Sage’s psychiatrist told Olingy to take him to Somerville Hospital for a two-week evaluation at the acute-care unit for teens. Sage agreed to go as long as he could take his Xbox. If he hadn’t consented, Olingy says, she and her husband were prepared for a last resort: calling an ambulance.
At the hospital, Sage was diagnosed with a raft of psychological afflictions, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and reactive attachment disorder, which is characterized by the inability to fit into a family dynamic. Reactive attachment disorder is rare, but psychiatrists say it’s fairly prevalent in children adopted from Eastern Europe in the early 1990s.
From Somerville, Sage was transferred to McLean Hospital, where he spent more than a month. When he moved back home and started school again, he quickly returned to his old demeanor: defiant, angry, withdrawn, and depressed. He said he couldn’t work out his issues while living at home in a family structure, so he and his parents decided that he would become a ward of the state.
The Department of Social Services placed Sage in the Brandon School & Residential Treatment Center in Natick. A year and a half later, he completed the program and was given the option of moving back in with his parents or finding another residential program while he finished high school. He settled on living at a home run by the Supporting and Assisting Independent Living program in Beverly, nicknamed the Blaine House.
After losing a three-year-long custody battle for Sage in 2005, Steve Myers left Amherst and slipped into a life of quiet obscurity. Then, in 2009, he was contacted by a woman named Connie Durant, who’d worked for him at the Traveling School from 1977 to 1992. Though she hadn’t talked to him in more than a decade, Durant looked Myers up on Facebook and the two began corresponding.
Around the same time, however, Durant found the articles about Myers and the Santa Cruz police report. When she questioned him about the allegations, Myers admitted to some improper behavior, telling her in an e-mail that he had always had low self-esteem: “Never having had a father, never having received affection, I sought it from the kids, to the idiotic point of sharing a bed (Michael Jackson lunacy).”
Myers confided that he had become suicidal after losing custody of Sage and had moved to South Africa for three years. He taught for two of those years, but was let go after someone at the school found the news stories about him on the Internet. He returned to Denver and got a job as a teacher, but was placed on paid leave when school officials found the same articles. From there he moved to England, where he taught at a prep school. And just recently, he told Durant, he’d joined the teaching staff at Mid-Peninsula High School in Menlo Park, California.
As their e-mail correspondence continued, Myers admitted to Durant that he had been sexual with two former students and had sought professional help. He did, however, dispute Dan Thiel’s account of what happened during their camping trip in 1980. Nevertheless, to Durant, Myers seemed to be rationalizing his actions. “From society’s point of view, it was wrong and illegal,” he wrote. But, “Is illegal behavior automatically wrong?” He continued: “For a time I also thought about the Persians and Greeks who believed sex with boys was not only acceptable, but a necessary part of their development into manhood.”
Disturbed, Durant located former Traveling School students and staff members. One of them was Jon Warner — the 13-year-old who, with his mother’s permission, had traveled with Myers to the Albuquerque teacher conference in 1978. Warner filed a report with police in Mountain View, California, this year, claiming Myers had abused him during that trip. When I call him for this story, Warner tells me that he and Myers stayed in a motel room with only a single bed, and that Myers one evening started massaging Warner’s shoulders. “Then he told me he was going to give me a different kind of massage,” Warner recalls.
Myers told him to turn over on his back, Warner says, and began masturbating him. After several minutes, Warner says, Myers got under the covers and started playing with himself. Warner tells me that he sat on the edge of the bed, watching as Myers finished, walked across the room, and grabbed a motel towel to wipe himself down.
Upon arriving home in California several days later, Warner decided not to tell his mother. “I was so embarrassed and ashamed,” he says. “Throughout my whole life, whenever I feel personal control is taken from me I identify that same feeling with being stuck with Steve in Albuquerque. I flash immediately, my eyes will cross, and I’ll take flight on somebody.”
Connie Durant got in touch with others who claim Myers abused them, including Dan Thiel, and eventually formed a support network for them. She says she knows of nine men who claim Myers abused them as children. The group thinks Myers has been able to continually land teaching jobs because he’s never been charged with or convicted of a crime. That, they believe, has allowed him to pass background checks.
St. Patrick’s Day has started off well enough for JP Vernazzaro. He’s thrown a party, an annual tradition with a couple dozen friends and neighbors gathering for a day of drinking on the front porch of his home on Grant Street in Beverly. Vernazzaro has stayed fairly sober for most of the day, sipping his beer and dancing with his two-year-old nephew. But now it’s 8 p.m., and Vernazzaro has disappeared.
According to family members, Vernazzaro grew up in a dysfunctional home. They say his father, a drunk, would scream at him and throw him across the room into a bannister. When Vernazzaro was 19 or 20, the relatives say, his mother packed up and moved to Florida, leaving him with abandonment issues and a reliance on drugs and alcohol.
Police arrested Vernazzaro nine times from 2001 to 2005. Once, he was caught with marijuana (packaged for sale) and a knife. Another time, he was arrested for breaking and entering. In July 2001 he attacked his eight-year-old niece, Mariah Tower. According to the court report, Vernazzaro dragged the girl by her hair into his house and emerged with a butcher’s knife in each hand, threatening to slit her throat. He received probation. Four years later, police charged him with rape, witness intimidation, and giving alcohol to a minor, but the case was never prosecuted. Somehow, he’s never spent time in prison.
Vernazzaro is also a member of the Underground Backyard Wrestling league, fighting under the name “Johnny Blaze.” The “matches,” which have been uploaded to YouTube, often consist of wrestlers talking smack, hitting each other in the face with industrial-size light bulbs, beating each other with nail-ridden planks, and setting each other on fire.
More recently, though, Vernazzaro has found a calling of sorts. Unable to get work for years because of his criminal record, he’s landed a job working a booth at a traveling carnival. He likes the job. For the first time in his life, he feels like he fits in.
A half-hour after he’s disappeared from his own party, Vernazzaro returns, drunk and screaming into his phone about a fight. According to grand jury testimony, he stumbles into a fence and starts ripping at his shirt. He asks the group whether anyone wants to come with him to the park for a fight. Steven Arroyo, his 25-year-old friend, agrees to join him. Vernazzaro gives his nieces a bear hug and a kiss and tells them that he loves them. Then he heads off with Arroyo for the playground.
As they walk in silence, Vernazzaro amps himself up. His pace quickens. The two friends cross the park’s baseball diamond and see a crowd. Two guys are standing in the middle, both of them short and skinny. Approaching, Vernazzaro slows down and tenses, his hands shaking. Then he tears off his shirt and crouches down into a grappler’s stance.
“Do you really want to do this?” he asks Sage and Adam.
“Are you sure you really want to do this?” one of the teens replies.
Vernazzaro charges, swinging wildly. He misses. Using one hand, Adam wheels the aluminum bat around and smashes Vernazzaro in the skull. The blow sends a loud “ting” through the park, like a batter cracking a line drive. Vernazzaro staggers backward.
What happens next is in dispute. Some witnesses will later tell a grand jury that Sage moves in close and punches Vernazzaro. Sage will tell police that Vernazzaro hits him with a forearm and then falls on top of him. Prosecutors will say that Sage plunges his blade once into Vernazzaro’s lower left back and twice into his chest, piercing his heart — a claim Sage denies.
Vernazzaro somehow snatches the bat away from Adam and, bleeding, wobbles backward. “Who has the bat now?” he says. Then he briefly props himself up with the bat before collapsing onto the grass. He cries out for help. Several people rush to him while Sage and Adam flee, running back the way they came, through the parking lot, across the train tracks, and over to Blaine House. Along the way, they shed their blood-stained shirts. Arriving home, they enter through a side door. It’s 13 minutes past their 9 p.m. curfew.
Adam’s hands are dirty, he smells of alcohol, and he’s bare-chested. He tells the confused staff that he gave his shirt to a girl who was cold. Sage slips into the bathroom and turns on the faucet. When he emerges, his face is flush and he’s wearing fresh clothes. Sage and Adam go outside and sit on the front stoop.
Minutes later, a police cruiser pulls up. In the back are eyewitnesses who identify the two teens. According to the police report, an officer notices that Sage’s hand is injured, covered in dried blood and a bandage. A bloody paper towel is tucked inside his pocket.
Vernazzaro, an officer says, is dead.
The day after the fight, when Christensen and Martin appear in court for an arraignment, the prosecutors say JP Vernazzaro’s killing was an act of premeditated murder. Sage’s defense attorney, Ray Buso, counters that Sage acted in self-defense. Buso, himself a former prosecutor, says his client was just trying to protect himself and Melissa, and that he went to the park for the fight because Vernazzaro had threatened to come to the Blaine House if he didn’t, which could have led to Sage getting kicked out of the program. As for the bat and knife, Buso explains that the teens grabbed them at the last minute to use as a deterrent. This explanation does not please Judge Dunbar Livingston, who says that Sage and Adam should have simply removed themselves from the situation.
A year and a half later, the teens continue to sit in jail, awaiting trial on charges of murder and assault and battery. In October 2011 Sage was charged with two other counts of assault and battery for allegedly attacking a jail guard with a bar of soap wrapped inside a sock.
Although no one has come forward to say that Myers abused Sage, Dan Thiel has reached out to Buso to ask to speak with Sage. He says he wants to lend support. But Buso and Sage’s parents have declined the request, feeling that Sage has enough to deal with at the moment. The family and Buso also denied requests to make Sage available for an interview for this story.
Steve Myers, meanwhile, showed up in Menlo Park, California, where he got a job at Mid-Peninsula High School in the fall of 2011. This January, Connie Durant put together a package of newspaper clippings about Myers and sent it to the school. Myers was quickly placed on leave.
Around the same time, Jon Warner filed his police report in Mountain View, California. And another former Traveling School student, Charles Hurt, filed a separate police report with the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office in California, claiming that Myers molested him at Yosemite National Park in 1974. Then, in May, Durant sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice providing a timeline of the claims of abuse against Myers and asking that a case be opened.
Myers’s alleged victims have also contacted several attorneys. They hope to file a civil lawsuit against Myers by the end of the year, with the goal of preventing him from finding another teaching job. Among the lawyers they’ve reached out to are those representing one of the victims of former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted in June on 45 counts of abuse. Through a nonprofit called the Second Mile, Sandusky offered programs for at-risk Pennsylvania children for more than 30 years. Many of his victims were participants in that program.
In all, I interviewed four people who say they were abused by Myers. After hearing their stories, it is difficult not to draw some comparisons between Sandusky’s crimes and the ones Myers is alleged to have committed. One man I spoke to, who knew Myers in the 1970s and asked to remain anonymous, told me that Myers’s “typical target was someone with an estranged relationship with their parents or someone without a father. That made it easier for him to befriend them and provide much-desired attention. It always felt healthy and good at first. And then it turned into something else.”
Back in December 2011, when Durant was still in touch with Myers, she received a package from him in the mail. It was a novel Myers had written called Floaters. It tells the story of a retired teacher who befriends a 12-year-old boy, and together, they attempt to escape an overly repressive society. The book contains several scenes of pedophilia. The dedication: “To my beloved son, Sajan.”