A stray cat might feel just as the title says--and twelve-year-old Benicia isn't very different. Illegitimate daughter of an alcoholic mother and a father killed in Vietnam unaware of her existence, Benicia is tormented by the girls in her class for not living up to suburban standards (though the boys admire her athletic prowess). To escape the equal rigors of home--mother Rosa's neglect, the verbal abuse of Rosa's live-in boyfriend Clyde--she takes refuge increasingly on the mountain. Some support comes from a sympathetic teacher and a neighbor who's also a social pariah; and then, providentially, Benicia meets her grown-up neighbor Jack, who's going to raise palomino horses, and his girl Andrea--and is absorbed pronto into their lives. The handling of these overwhelming circumstances is all too facile, and Brenda herself is all too self-reliant and self-aware. Even acknowledging her hatred for her mother and Clyde doesn't throw her: ""Her mother had died years ago, drowned in a bottle of liquor. These were two mean, cruel people from whom she had to get away. . . . Suddenly she realized they weren't important anymore. She, Benicia, was what mattered."" So, with that standard line from teenage novels, she's free to join Jack and Andrea (now, partly for her sake, about to marry) in a fish-and-cream household.