Several months ago, I had dinner with a group of family members, including my grandnephew, now aged eleven. I hadn’t seen him for a while, and typically, while my back was turned, he’d grown about three feet. After I told him it was good to see him and asked some preliminary questions about school (which he answered with a muttered, “Okay, I guess” and “Yeah, pretty much”), we sat down to dinner. I was placed next to him, and on the other side was another kid about the same age—the stepson of another relative.

As boys do, these two were initially suspicious of one another and confined their conversation to quick, sideways glances and an occasional grunted remark. But pretty soon, at least in part as a defensive alliance against ...

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