Bryan's mom has always encouraged his quiet, thoughtful nature, but his dad is different. He thinks it's time for the sixth-grader to toughen up. With a quick temper and recently out of jail on probation, he tells Bryan it's better for a man to be feared than to be liked.
Bryan's not really sure about this, and it doesn't seem to even matter when he befriends new kid Mike. At first everything is calm and chill, the way Bryan likes it, as the boys bond over their love of reading comics and drawing superheroes. But things get uncomfortable when it turns out Mike has some risky ideas about how to have fun. Then Bryan's dad gets in a fight and ends up back in jail, and something in Bryan snaps. He starts cutting school, jumping subway turnstiles and going train surfing, with Mike in the lead. But when Mike takes things a step too far and shows his true colors, Bryan has a difficult decision to make.