The book starts out in the winter of 1993, where one of the boys who were in the facility is confronting one of the guards who tortured and brutalized him for the duration of his stay in the facility many years before. The man is begging the boy that he tortured many years before to forgive him for what he did to him as a child. This book is a true story, but Carcaterra has changed most of the date, locations, and people to keep the people involved a secret. He also states that many people helped recreate his story, but he promised to keep all of the anonymous.
The story starts out in the hot summer of 1963, in Hell's Kitchen, a Manhattan neighborhood. Four best friends are preparing for a go cart race, where the first prize is worth fifteen dollars. The four boys, Shakes, John, Butter, and Michael, decide that Shakes is going to be the driver of the cart. In the end, Shakes does not make it or win, and all of his friends laugh and joke at him like best friends do. The four boys were inseparable, and hung out every day together. They all came from broken homes, where their fathers beat their mothers, and there was not much love in the home. They were all each other had. They all went to the same Catholic school together, and got along well with Father Bobby. Father Bobby was more like a friend to the boys than a priest, and all the boys would go to Father Bobby for something important instead of going to their parents.
All of the boys loved going to church and also loved playing pranks on people. Sometimes, the boys would sneak into the confession booths and act like a priest to hear confessions. Although they never got into trouble, one lady confided in them that she was sleeping around which was a very big deal in those years, and then she told them thank you and she knew they would keep it to themselves. The lady never told on them for it, even though she knew that they should not be doing it. Besides pulling pranks on people, they all loved to go swimming, play stickball, and harass the older people in town like Fat Mancho, the owner of the bodega downtown. They would go in and take candy without paying for it, then tease him. It was all in good fun, and even though Fat Mancho acted like he did not like the boys, deep down, he cared for all four of them. The four boys had very foul mouths, and acted a lot older than they all were, but they were actually really good boys. None of the boys ever caused any real trouble or really hurt anybody with their antics.
One hot summer day, like every other summer day in Hell's Kitchen, they decided to steal a hot dog cart from a vendor, and leave it a couple of blocks away. They had done it before and nothing serious ever came of it. What started as a joke ended up sending them to the Wilkinson Home for Boys. They never planned that the vendor would give chase, and when he did, the boys took the cart further than they planned, and ended up dropping it down a flight of stairs. The cart ended up pinning the man against the wall, and it almost killed him. Father Bobby did all he could to keep the boys out of the home, but to no avail. Shakes had a feeling that Father Bobby knew something bad about the home, but he would not tell him about it. He knew that Father Bobby did not want to scare him and the other boys. He wanted all of the boys to go to the home and be strong about it.
Soon after being sentenced, all of the boys were loaded on a bus and sent to the home. The first day the boys got there, they knew that their stay was going to be unforgettable. In the Wilkinson Home for Boys, each of the four boys lost their innocence. In words that should not be spoken, the boys were beaten, raped, and tortured by the young guards that were supposed to be watching over them and keeping them out of trouble. The four boys tried to stay friends and stand up for each other, but the more they stood up for each other, the worse the abuse got. For the whole time the boys were in the home, they withstood beatings and rapes daily. At one point, there was a football game where the inmates and the guards played against each other. The inmates teamed up and got the biggest guys in the facility on their team to try and give the guards back what they received the whole time they were there. During the game, the guards are very rough and end up killing one of the inmates. They boys thought that they were standing up against the guards, but they only made it much worse on themselves.
When the boys finally got out of the home, they all stayed friends, but two of the boys grew up to be killers, John and Tommy, who they called Butter. Michael became a lawyer, and Lorenzo, who they called Shakes after Shakespeare, became a writer. One day, two men shoot and kill a man in a bar. The two guys who killed him are John and Tommy, and the man that they kill is one of the guards who raped and tortured them as children. The two men plead innocent when they are caught, and to their surprise, their best childhood friend, Michael, decides to prosecute them. At first, they think that Michael is crazy and he really does want them to go to jail. Over the period of the trial, it becomes apparent that Michael took the case against his two best friends to lose, and to open the doors on the Wilkinson Home for Boys.
Join four best friends on their journey and trial while they are trying to prosecute the men who ruined their souls. You will meet a lot of great men and not so great men from the boy's childhoods, the men that the boys grew up around. Although the boys caused trouble when they were younger, the men they grew up around like Fat Mancho, Father Bobby, and King Benny knew that the boys were good boys, and they wanted the men who hurt them put to rest. During the trial, the guards who tortured the boys were very surprised to see all four of them in the same courtroom, and they all tried to deny what they did to the poor boys. I promise, if you read this story you will laugh, you will cry, and you will meet four great men who are bonded for the rest of their lives weather they like it or not.