Ishmael and his classmates realized quickly that survival at St. Daniel’s meant either avoiding Barry or joining Barry’s inner circle. Ishmael, of course, chose avoidance. Since starting at St. Daniel’s a year ago, Ishmael has perfected the art of staying invisible. So he doesn’t do “stupid” things, like laugh, speak, volunteer for things, or look at Barry. Every time teachers force Ishmael to stop hiding, Barry inevitably asks “What stinks?” Now, Ishmael is preparing to start Year Nine and expects it to be like last year. But he’s wrong: this year will be hard and weird, but it’ll be the best year of his life.
Here, Ishmael describes exactly how hellish Barry has made his life. Barry has essentially stopped Ishmael from being able to enjoy school or, indeed, participate in the classroom. Instead, Ishmael is forced to concentrate on his own day-to-day survival. And Barry is so powerful that, as Ishmael gets ready to start Year Nine, it doesn’t occur to him that things could change—he only knows the year will be great after the fact, when he’s writing this account.