Liz Harvey is affluent, middle class, thirty-two and white. Tug (Thomas) Morton, 16, lives on the street, doesn't know his family, is sixteen and Ploynesian. Their struggle to forge a relationship across the barriers of age, colour and class is poignant, gritty, funny and in the end, heart-warmingly triumphant.
Life for Liz is circumscribed by the respectable veneer of an affluent community. The streets she walks are clean and safe. She sleeps between matched sheets, eats at good restaurants. She has never told a deliberate lie or used foul language in public.
Tug's streets are mean. He's a kid mugger and petty thief, living by his wits, slipping in and out of the hands of the law. Affluence to him is a triple hamburger and a bed with a blanket for the night. He is a dangerous little thug, ready to strike at the society he views with contempt.
It is unthinkable that Liz Harvey and Tug Morton should ever meet. But Tug is picked up for a hopelessly unsuccessful suicide attempt. Both end up at Valleyview psychiatric hospital: Tug despatched there by a liberal judge, Liz a voluntary patient.
In the bizarre hospital environment they are both out of context. Their very aloneness brings them together in a strange and fragile friendship: material, curious, oddly protective.
Discharged from hospital Tug returns to his mates on the street stealing, dosing down where he can, trying to stay one step ahead of the police and the courts. Liz leaves to face a new independent life. Her husband, Ken, exasperated by her inconvenient breakdown, has readily agreed to marital separation. Their son, Michael, has opted to stay with his father. Liz is on her own. But her exhilaration at new found freedom quickly evaporates. In her loneliness she seeks our Tug. It is the beginning of a whole new life for them both.
Liz and Tug become lovers and through him Liz discovers the underbelly of her smug and proper city: the blind racial prejudice, the hostility of the affluent toward the poor, the Catch-22 of authority, the affronted disgust of her former peers, the barriers between the privilege and the disadvantaged.
Her brave new world now encompasses the unthinkable: court appearances, probation officers, police raids, unemployment and grinding poverty. To her it is unbelievable and intolerable. For Tug and his friends it is just life, sometimes even a comical life.
Still the odds against their survival are huge and begin to engulf them. Liz cannot cast off her middle class instincts and Tug cannot break free from the streets and his friends. Their relationship cracks in the face of the obstacles, in violence and bitterness. But once alone they find in themselves only half a life.
It is left to Liz to take the final huge step that will hold them together. In a defiant gesture she takes control of her life and embraces her own, new-found convictions. It is a courageous and triumphant act of love and it saves them both.
It is based on fact.