Alan is an orphan, and when the uncle he once lived with died, the ""authorities"" had all his animals gassed while Alan waited in a shelter for great-Aunt Jessie to pick him up. That's why, when Jessie dies, Alan decides to keep her absence a secret. A loner anyway, Alan goes on living in his aunt's apartment with his ""kingdom"" (a dog, a cat, a white rat, a hamster, and some gerbils), and we see him rapidly running out of money and lying more and more desperately to neighbors, the super, his principal, etc. Then the cat's illness drives Alan to an alcoholic vet who guesses the truth and more or less takes him over. But Dr. Harris lets Alan down when he falls off the wagon; Alan, concerned about him, lets down an old neighbor he'd been helping to protect from a gang of teen-age toughs; and before the sympathetic principal takes Alan in, and Harris (whom he prefers) joins AA and promises to try again, Alan has stolen church/school money to pay for his dog's operation by another vet. Sentimental as the basic situation is, Alan's urban milieu and its population are drawn with reasonable verity, and his devotion to his kingdom is understandable, even to those who don't list keeping animals alive as a high priority value. For most kids, of course, Alan's is an eminently sympathetic cause, and the added interest of coping alone enhances his likely appeal.