It's a miserable situation: thirteen-year-old Betsy's family has moved from Brooklyn to upstate New York because her father, evidently a difficult sort, lost his teaching job and her mother, the acme of capable cool, got a job as a school counselor. Brother Hal, 17, loses no chance to snipe at his father; Dad cuts down everyone when he's not nursing his own grievances; Betsy sees herself as a washout--""not smart, not pretty""--and has a fixation on a vicious Doberman doomed to be ""put down"" at the next-door animal shelter. . . which, her mother reasonably explains, she can't have because a) her father is allergic to fur (and won't take shots) and b) the family can't afford to feed him. (She doesn't even know, then, about the dog's history.) Undeterred, Betsy persists--and does make a friend of the dog, Zoro. Then, enlisting the aid of nice, 16-year-old shelter helper Bill Wing (who has his own family-and-self-image problems), she sneaks Zoro out and hides him in a barn. At this point, just-plain-gloom gives way to plot-melodramatics: secretive Hal pops in with a new friend, bent on stashing away some marijuana (he's dealing--to earn money for college); Zoro mauls him badly; Betsy hides Zoro again, claiming he's dead; and only at the close is she prevailed upon to tell the truth and acknowledge that she may have been ""irresponsible."" It even looks, now, as if her father may stop pitying himself and ""become a writer."" None of them, however, seems worth wasting sympathy on (except maybe long-suffering, much-maligned Mom).