With the new road being built in the Louisiana swampland, all the 'gators are leaving, and Jean LeBlanc's trapper father must go to work in the offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Jean, at 14, is suddenly the man of the house, and just taking care of his mother and small sister requires manhood enough. When an escaped convict appears on the scene and steals Old Red Gravy, Jean's dog, Jean finds himself up to his neck in swamp water and trouble. The author has caught the special inflection of Louisiana backwoods talk as well as a feeling for both the resignation and pride of poor people leading lonely, hard lives. It's done without sermons or sentimentality, and that's an achievement.