If he'd walked by five minutes later, his life would have remained the same. Charlie Reade has a pretty normal life for a teenager. He plays sports at school, is getting ready for college and has his eye on girls although he doesn't yet have a girlfriend. But walking home one day, he hears frantic barking at the old house where the recluse lives. Charlie goes to investigate and finds elderly Howard Bowditch lying on the ground after falling off a ladder. Charlie calls for help and agrees to take care of the dog, Radar, while Howard is in the hospital.
By the time Howard is released, its clear he will need help for a while. Charlie moves in and takes care of both Howard and Radar. He gives up sports because he wants to feel needed and needed he is. Slowly Howard and he develop a friendship and Howard lets him in on some of his secrets. He has a safe upstairs full of golden beads and cashing those in is how he survives. He tells Charlie of another world where people don't age and that he is actually over a hundred. Charlie doesn't believe any of that but listens anyhow. When Howard dies, he leaves everything he has to Charlie.
By then, Radar is getting older and slower and Charlie isn't ready to give him up. He decides to check out Howard's story of another land where Radar can be restored to a young dog. He knows where Howard said the passageway was and one day he and Radar take it. To his shock, there is another land although it's not the wonderful place Howard talked about.
A tyrant has taken over the country and released a disease on the land. People turn gray and their faces melt but slowly prolonging the misery. Charlie manages to find the carousel to turn Radar's age back but he is soon captured and imprisoned in a dudgeon with others not affected by the graying. These prisoners are used for live battles to the death and Charlie knows they can't stay if they don't want to all die. Can he get back to his own world?
This is one of Stephen King's best novels in my opinion. Charlie is a likeable hero and the worlds he inhabits are richly imagined. Readers will fall in love with Radar and cheer for Charlie to be successful in freeing himself and the country from the tyranny of its king. This book is recommended for suspense and fantasy readers.