Since his parents died when he was a baby, Jim -- 13 and woefully homely -- has lived with his grandmother in Tampa. When she dies, the family meets to parcel him off. Things look grim until Billie relents. Despite ""a house, two mortgages and no man,"" she'll take him home to Orlando -- but only for the summer, until her two daughters return from visiting their father. Jim resolves to make himself indispensable, but life has taught him some harsh lessons and he hardly dares hope. He settles into a routine of housework, mowing lawns, and babysitting and meets Mr. Morrison, who likes Jim to read his mail to him, and his dog Trudie. Mr. Morrison tells Jim that the alligators in a nearby lake will eat dogs and warns him never to feed them. But to Jim -- yearning for a confidante, desperate to control his own life, quick to identify with a creature as ugly as he thinks himself to be -- feeding a gator is irresistible; the worst is inevitable. Still, he weathers the tragedy and moves toward being adopted by Billie and accepted by her daughters. The quiet story realistically captures Jim's pain and his ultimate relief; a revelatory moment when he first sees a photo of his parents is especially poignant.