During the Depression, a group of abandoned children join forces, hopping freights from New York to Chicago to find one of their members kidnapped by a hobo. Willy, 15, from a hard-working Brooklyn milieu, finds the Depression has dealt his family a death blow. His mother dies, and his father and older brother can't get work. They leave Willy in Hoover Village, a series of shacks in Central Park, knowing that he'll be fed by the authorities. Willy makes friends with other kids who are in his shoes, and they band together under the name Lackawanna, after one of the freight lines. Among them are 14-year-old Deidre and her little brother, Herbie. Herbie is snatched by a hobo who forces the boy onto a freight train headed west. Willy and the others, penniless and vulnerable but full of resolve, pursue. It's a dangerous undertaking, filled with nightmarish encounters with violent hobos and railroad police. But a few people, some indigent, some with a bit of money and influence, give them help. The search ends in Chicago where they rescue Herbie, but not before one of their gang in Chicago, where they another freezes to death in a Chicago flophouse. Lackawanna is an unsuccessful mixture of sentimentality and hard reality, and Aaron is at home with neither. The dialogue of the roughhewn gang never gels with the inappropriately poetic narrative, told first by Willy, then Deidre, their voices nearly indistinguishable.