Neil Josten is the main character of the series. Exhausted from a life on the run, Neil has to adjust to being a Fox. Due to his equally damaged teammates and his newfound appearance in the spotlight, he finds himself in conflict with his urge to stay hidden and isolated. In the end, his love for Exy is greater than the fear of his father.
Neil is described as a short, athletic young man with a slender build. In the first two books, Neil dyes his hair black and wears brown contact lenses in order to disguise his identity and blend in with the crowd. His hair is naturally auburn and his true eye color is a chilly shade of blue. It has been noted several times that he closely resembles his father, to the point where he can’t even look at his reflection without being sick.
Neil has extensive scars on his torso from the abuse and injuries he suffered under his father and from life on the run. By the end of the trilogy, he has gained additional scars as well as burn marks on his cheeks and arms.
His wardrobe consists mainly of worn, basic pieces of clothing, such as t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers. He does not have a particular fashion sense, valuing utility over anything else, and chooses his attire based on its ability to cover his scars and make him appear average.
After the second book, Riko forces Neil to stop disguising his natural hair and eye color. He also forces Neil to bear a tattoo in the form of the number 4 on his left cheek, to match Riko's 1, Kevin's 2, and Jean's 3. This tattoo is later burned off by Lola Malcolm.
Neil grew up in Baltimore, the main seat of his father's crime enterprise, in a five-bedroom house a couple of miles northwest of downtown Baltimore. He was trained to use knives and guns at an early age, by Lola Malcolm and one other person. His training had not progressed beyond dead animals before he was taken away.
As a child, Neil played little league Exy in the position of backliner under the name Abram. In order for him to play at all, his mother had to take him an hour out of Baltimore, where none of the trainers knew his father. They were accompanied by bodyguards with guns.
On the run Edit
When Neil was 10, he played a game of Exy at Castle Evermore with Kevin Day and Riko Moriyama. He did not know it at the time, but was part of a two-day audition to prove that he could be useful to the Moriyama family; if he failed, he would be killed, but if he succeeded, he would become part of the Edgar Allan Ravens. On the first day, the game was to determine his potential. Neil, Kevin, and Riko witnessed Neil's father, Nathan Wesninski, cut a man into pieces that same day. The second day would have brought another match, this time to determine how well he could improve based on feedback and corrections, but he did not make it to the match. His mother stole 5 million dollars and fled with Neil that night, through the tunnel that connected the garage to the basement in their home.
Neil and his mother stayed in 22 different cities on the run, going by a corresponding 22 different names in total. Names that Neil had assumed during this time include Alex, Stefan, and Chris. He and his mother never used the same airport twice; flying itself was risky with their forged passports, although the forgeries were good.
Neil spent three years in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Because of this, his second language is German. He is also proficient in French due to having been in both France and Montreal.
All of Neil's possessions could fit into his duffel bag. This included eight different outfits and his binder, where he stored information and items useful to his life on the run.
He and his mother used to sleep back to back in the same bed for safety and out of paranoia. They always had their guns under their pillows. After Neil was once shot at the edge of his Kevlar vest, he slept in his vest for nearly a month out of fear. His mother had had to force him to take it off long enough to wash.
As Neil grew older, he started showing an interest in girls. His mother thought that they posed too much of a risk to them if he spilled his secrets over a childish crush, so she beat him to dissuade him from pursuing a relationship. At the start of the series, Neil had not kissed anyone in four years.
His mother died on a beach in California after an encounter with Nathan Wesninski in Seattle. Neil burned the car with her body in it and later buried her bones on the beach. He made it to San Francisco, where he stayed for one day before setting off to Millport, Arizona.
After the death of his mother, Neil moved through Nevada to Millport where he attended the local high school. He joined the school's Exy team as a striker, since this was the only position available to him. Neil pretended he never played Exy before and even carried around some how-to books to keep up appearances.
To avoid questions about his parents, Neil claimed they were generally uninterested in him and frequently out of town on business. His mother was supposedly an engineer who works in Tucson, his father was halfway through CDL training in Phoenix.
Because he couldn't rent a flat on his own, Neil squatted in an empty house in a quiet neighborhood of mostly elderly people. He slept in the locker room as often as he can so that his neighbors didn't suspect him living in an empty house. Coach Hernandez knew this but didn't report him, because he thought Neil's parents abused him physically.
Neil planned to leave Millport after graduation and assume another identity.
At the start of the series, David Wymack comes to recruit Neil to the Palmetto State Foxes after Millport's last game, two games from finals in the state championship. He brings Kevin Day and Andrew Minyard with him, both of whom Neil recognizes from following Kevin's career. Neil doesn't want to join the team because he is afraid that his father will find him if he steps into the spotlight, or that Kevin will eventually remember him from their encounter as children. In the end, his desire to play Exy overpowers his need to run—he reasons that he can just pack his things and leave if someone recognizes him.
The Foxes Edit
Ostensibly to escape his abusive parents, Neil leaves Millport the day after his graduation, on May 12, and lives with Coach Wymack until the other athletes arrive and he can move into their dorm.
During his second training session Neil exhausts himself so much against Andrew that he couldn't hold his racquet any more. Coach Wymack is furious and Kevin makes him stay at home the next day. It takes Neil two weeks to realize that he won't live up to Kevin's expectations. Nevertheless, he trains harder and harder in order to get Kevin to ease up on him.
When Neil learns that the Ravens have changed districts, Wymack charges him with the task of keeping Kevin from destroying himself this year. Neil resolves to stay with the Foxes until right before the Raven game and then run, so that Riko has no chance to recognise him.
After the first week of training with the Foxes, Neil feels smothered by constantly being around the same people.
On their first game night, the other Foxes accompany Neil from class to class in order to protect him from unwanted attention, now that his name is finally known.
Neil is perceptive, a trait necessary for his life on the run. When Andrew picks him up from the airport under the guise of being Aaron, Neil quickly figures out that he isn't actually Aaron, and that he's off his prescribed drugs.
Neil distrusts middle-aged men because they remind him of his father, whom he fears. This is why Coach Wymack scares him at the beginning.
Neil doesn't trust other people. He doesn't accept their offers of help and tries to solve every problem on his own, and he is generally closed off and secretive about himself. He also tries to always stay in control of the situation.
Neil is almost as obsessed with Exy as Kevin is, although he had to stay away from it most of his life. This obsession makes him risk everything to play for the Foxes.
He doesn't shy away from a fight, although the persona of "Neil Josten" he portrays wouldn't start one.
Neil has a certain control over his emotions and can shove down his anger when it interferes with his survival.
Neil takes the following classes in his first year:
- Chemistry (Dropped after two weeks)
- History (Dropped after two weeks)
Relationship with Andrew Edit
Neil's first assessment of Andrew is that he is a psychotic midget. He thinks he can deal with that because he has grown up around violence.
When Neil accuses Andrew of going through his binder, Andrew threatens to break him. They make the deal that if Neil comes to Columbia with him, Andrew would leave his possessions alone. Andrew wants to make sure Neil looks acceptable when they're at the club, so he tells Nicky Neil's size and has him buy party clothes for Neil. Andrew also makes Neil take out his contact lenses for the trip because he apparently doesn't like brown eyes. Andrew has Roland drug Neil and Nicky forces him to take cracker dust. Neil is furious and wants to hurt Andrew but doesn't succeed. Andrew accuses him of being a mole spying on Kevin and of being a runaway. In his intoxicated state, Neil pays a busboy $100 to knock him out so he wouldn't accidentally reveal anything about his past. The next morning, Neil runs away from the cousins' house and hitch-hikes back to Palmetto to avoid having to share the car with the others. On the way back to Palmetto, he comes up with a story that will satisfy Andrew's curiosity but still reveal as little as possible about his real circumstances.
Neil has to reveal that he speaks German to prevent Wymack from listening in on them. He tells Andrew that his parents are dead. According to this story, his father was a gopher for the Moriyamas and was killed for taking money from them. That is also why Neil knew Riko and Kevin as children. After his father's death, Neil supposedly took the money his father had stolen and ran. He tells Andrew that Kevin can't recognise him or the Moriyamas could be on him again. Andrew lets him stay with the Foxes, but Neil tells him he would be gone before their match against the Ravens anyway. Having told so much of the truth for the first time, Neil wonders if Andrew wouldn't accept the whole story, but quickly stops this line of thought. He made the decision to trust Andrew and so does not need a buffer between them anymore; Andrew does not deem him a threat to Kevin and so allows Kevin to train Neil with Raven practices in order to improve his aim.
After their segment on Kathy Ferdinand's daily show, when Riko confronts Neil and Kevin in a hallway backstage, Andrew positions himself between Neil and Riko to give Neil the space he needs to retreat with Kevin. When Andrew catches up with the team, he touches Neil's back on the way past him to Kevin.
When they return home, Andrew points out inconsistencies in Neil's attitude and behaviour, telling him that he hates being lied to, and tells him that Riko will find him and that running won't save him. Andrew promises him that he will stand between Neil and Riko for one year if Neil stands at Kevin's side. In return, he asks Neil to give his back to Andrew. After Neil's initial response of panic, he agrees to Andrew's deal, giving in to his desire for staying instead of his ingrained instinct of running.
At Sweetie's, Andrew tells him that from now on he has a choice in everything he does. Nicky reveals that Neil is part of the family now. Family, to Andrew's lot, is not about blood or even who they like; it's about who Andrew is willing to protect. Part of the reason that Andrew is including Neil in this is because he is the reason that Kevin is staying with the Foxes.
At Columbia, Andrew tells Neil that they are going to be honest with each other for the time being, and that Neil should tell him what he has to do to keep him here. Neil asks him if he can protect him from his past and, when Andrew guesses that he means his father's boss, confirms it. Neil can't remember what it felt like to have someone hold him up and notes to himself that it is terrifying and liberating all at once, because he is giving his life to Andrew and hoping that Andrew will keep it safe.
When they learn that Seth is dead, Andrew tells Neil that Riko is most likely responsible for Seth's death. Despite this, he tells Neil that Riko can't kill another Fox and that Neil is staying with them. When Neil agrees, Andrew gives him a copy of the key for the house in Columbia - a key that means home.
When Andrew is being forced to go into rehab, he entrusts Kevin to Neil, and in order to get this trust, Neil allows Andrew to feel his scars under his shirt, and tells Andrew that he can call him by his middle name, Abram. This convinces Andrew to go into rehab.
While Andrew is there, Riko bribes one of the doctors into reenacting some of his most traumatic experiences in order to convince Neil to come to Edgar Allan for his winter break, and he did it without argument to keep Andrew safe
During the third book Andrew states that although he hates Neil, he would still blow him. This is the start of Neil realising Andrew might feel something for him. The pair kiss multiple times, but Andrew is always the first to pull away and leave. It does not help that Andrew does not like being touched.
By the time the Foxes go on vacation together, Neil and Andrew seem more comfortable being together. However, although they're teammates have figured out they are together, the two still refrain from doing anything in front of them.
Despite Aaron asking Neil if he is 'fucking my brother', it is unclear how far the two of them have gone.
Relationship with Kevin Edit
Kevin picks him for the Foxes because he thinks Neil has the potential to make Court. Kevin demands "Neil's game" so he can make Neil the star he sees in him. He then trains and criticizes Neil relentlessly. Kevin's reaction to the district change makes him so annoying to be around that Neil wants to punch him in the face. This culminates in Neil accusing him of going through his binder (or not stopping Andrew from doing so) and calling him a cripple, to which Kevin reacts by slamming him into a wall and choking him. Matt has to intervene.
When Neil sees how close Andrew and Kevin are, he gets jealous of Kevin's life. Even though in a way Kevin had it no better than he did, Kevin got out and now has people he can trust, whereas Neil can never have that. Despite his jealousy, Neil wants to protect Kevin, arguing that one of them has to make it after their awful lives.
After Andrew declares Neil as not dangerous, Kevin takes him out at night to practice at the Foxhole Court. When Neil sees how good Kevin is, he feels inspired again to play Exy for its own sake, not just to appease his teammates. Once they start training at night, Kevin resumes his angry criticism.
Kevin forces Neil to participate in Kathy Ferdinand's show by threatening to stop practising with him. Neil only agrees because he plans to run 1½ months later (before their match against the Ravens) and can't face the possibility of losing Exy before then.
Other Foxes Edit
In the beginning, Neil is outside of the Foxes' hierarchy. Dan tries to include him but doesn't succeed overly much because she has to watch the rest of the team too. Allison doesn't take him seriously. Seth joins in Kevin's criticism for him and has generally little regard for him. Renee is nice to him but Neil doesn't let her in. Aaron stays out of everything.
Most of the team thinks that he is trailer trash, just like Dan. Renee disagrees.
Nicky kisses him during their first visit to Eden's Twilight to force him to take cracker dust, to which Neil reacts with creative death threats. He later slept in the same bed with him and had his arms around him when he woke up, much to Neil's dismay.
Matt offers him protection from Andrew's lot that Neil is unwilling to take. Matt persists, though, and promises to protect Neil's possessions from Andrew. He also stays up at night when Neil is out with Andrew's lot and he is worried something might happen.
Besides Andrew, Matt is the person Neil is the closest to.
Neil watches movies with Seth and Matt in their room.
He doesn't understand how Allison can choose to date Seth, since she can have anyone.
Neil has a key to the Foxes' stadium.
He occasionally goes to the library to use the computer.
Neil likes running and is the fastest player in Class I Exy, clocking in a mile at four minutes.
Because he was signed so late, Neil missed the early registration window for athletes and has to register with the other freshmen in August.
Neil initially chooses to major in Spanish, as languages are useful on the run and he doesn't intend to stay at Palmetto. He later changes his major to Mathematics.
Although Neil has Stuart's telephone number in his binder for emergencies, he hopes that he will never have to use it because then he'd only be turning to another crime family.
He is good at picking locks. He inherited his lock picks from his mother.
Neil speaks French and German. To explain why he speaks French, he tells Nicky that his mother is French.
Neil doesn't take drugs or drink alcohol for fear that he might reveal something about himself when he is intoxicated. As a result, he has a very low tolerance for them.
He knows Matt's cell phone number by heart.
Once Neil hitch-hiked from New Mexico to Phoenix with various truckers. He pretended to be a sociology major conducting a survey.
Neil doesn't like sweets.
Neil's favorite color is gray.
Because of his life on the run, Neil had never been in an Exy stadium on game night until he joined the Foxes.
Neil smokes sometimes, but he more frequently lights a cigarette and lets it burn on its own. The smell of smoke reminds him of his mother, which is at once comforting and painful.
Before Neil moves to Palmetto State, all of his possessions are in his duffel bag, including his binder, therefore Neil either locks it up or takes it with him.
When he was on the run, he kept an elaborate binder full of newspaper articles about Kevin and Riko's career. The binder also contains money, emergency contacts, locations of money stashes, a forged note from an optometrist for contact lenses (as well as a box of brown contacts) and his uncle Stuart's telephone number. The money amounts to roughly $250,000.
To protect his binder in his dorm room, Neil buys a small safe on his first day in Fox Tower.
He wears old and inconspicuous clothes in order to blend into crowds and not be noticed. His clothes are pale and faded, with hems fraying, and because of this he has been likened to street trash before. When he starts at Palmetto, he has exactly 8 outfits.
Because of the extensive scars on his torso, Neil won't change or shower in front of other people. To put on his Exy gear, he goes into a toilet stall.
Every morning when he wakes up, Neil gives himself 2 minutes to relearn how to breathe, calculate his next move and talk himself through his fear.
During summer training, Neil rides Matt's car to training with the others. He runs back to Fox Tower afterwards. The others accept this and don't wait for him. Once the semester starts, he rides in Matt's truck to save time.
Neil and Kevin train every weekday except for Friday, from ten to whenever Kevin sees fit (often midnight or later).