When you hoe beets you're alone, so alone you might as well be on another planet," and when you work a carnival, it's like being separate, detached, "from outer space"--and it's the runaway narrator's immersion in these other worlds that gives Paulsen's high-key, deep-think story a real punch. At sixteen, he's not ready to take up his uncle's offer of 80 flat North Dakota acres, not without a try for fame and fortune. The breakaway (said to resemble Paulsen's own) lands him first among brutalized wetbacks on a sugar-beet farm where nearly a month of dry beans and bread and short-handled hoeing "from can to can't" nets him--"I'll call it even," says the smirking padrone. On the road again after attacking the boss, he's picked up by carnies Tiltawhirl John (for the ride he operates), hard/ soft wife Wanda, a stripper, and brother Billy, T-John's twin except for his shaved pate: he's the wild man who bites the heads off chickens. Billy's also the one who explains "the turkey world and the carny world," and--answering the boy's question--how it is that T-John can stand "all those turkeys seeing Wanda naked." But the glazed, bored, carny look that the boy learns--and his comfort at being one of the family--don't survive a fatal knife fight between T-John and Wanda's former lover that snaps the two worlds together. Home again farming, he won't forget, though, and neither will the reader. The acute observations outweigh the portentousness.