It is 1947 in rural Georgia, and 13-year-old Freddy James Johnson's father has run off, leaving him, his mother, and his younger brother, Kenneth Lee, destitute. Freddy has grown up listening to his father's platitudes about manhood and responsibility, and he proves he has been a good listener. Borrowing a neighbor's old truck, the boy drives to the small, sleepy town of Elderton and secures a run-down apartment plus an all-purpose errand-boy job at a tawdry saloon. The big event of the summer is a barbecue for which Freddy has dug a huge pit on the saloon's grounds. Custis Fullbright, a would-be replacement for Big Kenny in Mama's affections, shows up at the event and offers to drive the Johnsons to visit Mama's parents in South Carolina. Even the lure of the ocean is not sufficient to overcome Freddy's distaste for and distrust of Custis. The journey ends in tragedy, adding yet another loss for Freddy. Young has a fine ear for regional speech and creates a strong and positive sense of time and place. Freddy is a likable hero who is forced to grow up way too soon, yet he approaches every day of his life with renewed vigor and a strong sense of always doing the right thing. Where Big Kenny was all big talk but a little man in truth, his son is a young man who quietly grows in stature before readers' eyes.