This quotation occurs near the beginning of Part 1, when Bill and Charlie are having their first serious conversation. Throughout the novel, Bill serves as a mentor to Charlie. Bill sees potential in Charlie, but he also recognizes that Charlie is deeply troubled, and he wants to help Charlie overcome his inner demons. Bill serves as a steady, guiding adult figure in Charlie’s life. Throughout the course of the novel, the people that Charlie looks up to and trusts as his role models prove that they’re not necessarily as stable and benevolent as they might initially appear to be. Charlie idolizes his Aunt Helen, but she sexually abused him as a child. Charlie’s parents also had traumatic childhoods, which they are trying to work through, and Charlie’s mother is still coping with the death of her sister. Charlie’s brother withdraws from the family, and Charlie has to become the responsible figure in his sister’s life when she becomes pregnant. Bill, on the other hand, remains reliable as Charlie’s rock throughout the novel, providing Charlie with books to read, just as Charlie provides mix tapes for his friends.
Much of the advice that Bill gives Charlie throughout the novel also serves as advice that Bill is giving himself. Bill dreamed of going to New York City to become a playwright, but by the end of the novel, he decides to stay in Pittsburgh and teach high-school English. Bill realizes that he can make an impact on his students’ lives and help them live out their dreams. Bill is not necessarily running away from his own life by becoming a mentor, but rather, he is allowing himself to accept his role in others’ lives as a positive for his own life. By helping Charlie, Bill is also helping himself.