A small-scale, very touching story, simply and beautifully told, of some children in Catholic orphanages, during the Depression. Jerry Callum, II, has been in orphanages for 6 or 7 years, since the death of his mother, and has often run away, seeking his father, who, in turn, is in a mental institution because he tries to ""find"" his dead wife. This theme, of the gentle and innocent seeking a past, personal happiness among impersonal institutions, underlies all of Jerry's sad story. In the new, ""escape-proof"" orphanage to which he is currently sent, the priests discipline too harshly, and the boys form gangs, and are cruel in turn to each other. Yet both sides are touchingly human, wistful; forced into hardness by the problems of a society in stress. Their dialogues (and much of the book is dialogue) are succinct, true, even funny. With one gang-leader, Red, Jerry escapes again, and the boys wander through a marvellously described New York of the '30's, in which the reader's nostalgia for a lost, real past, and that of the boys', skillfully seem to reinforce each other. Red's old gang rejects them. Jerry loses a sneaker. Haphazard, astray, they hend for an aunt of Red's in Staten Island. The country, free life of any kind, seen for the first time, delights and enchants them. They sneak into another orphanage, and spend the night with some young cousins of Red's, and finally come safely to Red's aunt, who feeds them, promises them safety, and then (she is on relief) turns them over to the authorities. The sense of wonder and delight in these boys, in their first freedom, is marvelous and almost unbearable; and the same freshness, sympathy, gentleness marks even the unhappier scenes. It is both a heartbreaking and a delightful book, a rare combination.