Fifth-grader Joey Caruba has a secret from everyone, even his mother and his teacher: he can't read. Grandma, with whom Joey lived for seven years, is untidy and easygoing; now Joey's having a tough time getting used to living with Mama again in Chicago. Mama is preoccupied with keeping everything, including Joey, clean and perfect so that her new truck-driver husband, Alex, won't leave them. Then classmates Harry and Steve want him to join their ""club""--which turns out to be learning to read with an after-school volunteer, Mrs. Hewes. In an extraordinary scene, elderly Mrs. Hewes literally wrestles Joey to the floor, forcing him to stay; and her method of instruction (they read aloud in unison) would not work in every case. Yet Rabe's portrait of a basically good kid long in the habit of being angry and acting out because of this common problem is basically on target, his feelings and clumsy interactions sympathetically portrayed. Though the outcome is unrealistically neat--not only does Joey suddenly discover that he can read, but several other problems are simultaneously solved, including Alex revealing himself as a friendly, sensible Dad--this is a lively, involving story with well-drawn characters and a believable family situation where love toward a child doesn't necessarily lead to the ""best"" child-rearing practices.