Vanessa, eleven, is a loner who lives with her Gram and then, when Gram goes off to help a pregnant daughter-in-law, with sympathetic Char, her ""black sister"" next door. She lives in books and hides indoors from David, a mean kid from school who has tormented her with a dead mouse and sworn to get her for tattling. But David, also a loner, is really sorry; and when they meet that summer in the marshy Bottoms they become close friends. He is camping out in a tent there, studying the effect of pollution on birds, and she spends her days with him, learning birdwatching. Vanessa, tan and happy, is transformed. But David, who's been troubled all along about the birds he hadn't rescued, feels worse after he ignores a stranger's cry for help out of fear of the treacherous bog. He redeems himself by going after a bird in trouble there, and ends up in the hospital. After that, David and his family must move away; but Vanessa visits him in the end, her trip a gift of David's grateful father: ""I have the feeling, Vanessa, that you were maybe the first real friend he ever had. . . . I can't tell you what it did for him."" Lipp doesn't show us either. David's feelings and motivations are tagged but not revealed; and to a varying extent all the characters are heavy and lifeless.