John can't stop growing. At the age of 11 he is six feet tall and looks much older, but his mind is still that of a child. We see everything from John's point of view. He is obsessed with the idea that he will one day be famous and writes letters to the Ripley Museum near Niagara Falls, and to the Guinness Book of Records. He can tell when people are lying and thinks this might be his route to fame. He could be the human lie detector and people would come to see him from far and wide.
John and his parents are living with his grandmother in Gorey, a country village (in Ireland). His parents are having a difficult time and his father wants to enrol in University, but he has to pass the Trinity examination. John doesn't make friends easily, but when a new teacher arrives at the school, John is picked out as someone special - for the first time in his life his vivid imagination seems valued. But then his father quarrels with his grandmother and they leave for Dublin where they live in a high-rise block of flats and his father gets a low-grade job as a machinist.
The intensity of this narrative which gives us John's internal thoughts and ideas in relentless detail, can become a little overwhelming. John seems at times both threatening and vulnerable and the family atmosphere becomes claustrophobic, especially after John catches his father lying once too often. There is one incident at this stage of the book that is horrifically chilling and may cause the reader to withdraw any easy sympathy the book has built up for John. Nevertheless, this is a totally engrossing read.