The ghastliness of a local rite of passage gives this tale of a boy's inner battle between revulsion and his desire to fit in a whiff of Cormier--but with some belly laughs from Spinelli (The Library Card, p. 650, etc.) to lighten the load. In the popular fund-raiser that caps the town of Waymer's annual, weeklong Family Fest, entrants gun down thousands of live pigeons, while, under the guidance of a ""wringmaster,"" ten-year-old boys are enlisted to break the necks of birds that are only wounded. Even after winning acceptance (and a nickname, ""Snots"") from neighborhood bully Beans, and learning to join in the relentless harassment of his one-time friend, Dorothy Gruzik, Palmer regards his fast-approaching tenth birthday with dread. Then, like the Ancient Mariner's albatross, a pigeon appears at his bedroom window and moves in, calmly ignoring Palmer's halfhearted efforts to shoo it away. ""Nipper"" provides comic relief, both in its own behavior, and in Palmer's frantic attempts to conceal it from his parents and from Beans. He finds a--more or less--sympathetic ear in Dorothy, who, after some fence-mending, gives him the support and impetus he needs to make his true feelings known. She even spirits Nipper out of town as Family Fest approaches, but unknowingly leaves the pigeon where it can be captured for the shoot--and the stage is set for a dramatic rescue. A story both comic and disturbing, this is lit by Palmer's growing courage and Dorothy's surprising loyalty.