Mixed-up kid from juvenile court to all-round acclaim. Marty Haliday--the ""incorrigible,"" near-illiterate despair of his achieving N.Y. family--is shipped out to his uncle Lee Curton, California sheep rancher and breeder/trainer of prize collies. Marty, rebellious and rude, doesn't faze Uncle Lee. He doesn't daunt sympathetic teacher Ms. Eustis, either. And what's bugging him, if you didn't guess, comes out in his first writing sample: ""evyone in my fambli is smart and want me to be to so they wont be mbersd I aint."" Thereafter, Marty's steps toward redemption are not only signaled by the cloddish narrative but also anticipated by the steadily-improving letters home, from later months, that conclude each chapter. The big event for Marty is finding a mongrel pup, the granddaughter of Uncle Lee's prized Princess--whom pure-breed-minded Lee reluctantly lets him keep (after Marry assures him that he didn't, as believed, kill a dog back in N.Y.). And the pup, Duchess, quickly demonstrates that she's going to be the sheep-herding equal of Princess, while Marty himself will do Uncle Lee proud. (He'll also soon be writing poetry for Ms. Eustis.) Except for the sheep dog trials, at which ""a bastard dog and a troubled boy teaming together"" become celebrity performers--ersatz and mushy.