Willis Pierce is one of those loners whose few moments of pleasure come privately--from running city streets or eating pizza--rather than from people. His father's an unreliable alcoholic, his mother's warm but beaten down, and Willis, who's moved around too often, expects nothing from the kids at school. When Rabbit Slavin's gang tries to rough him up, he looks for revenge; when ""Richard the retard"" reaches for friendship, Willis keeps him at a distance; and he impulsively sticks a cigarette butt down Marion Bouchard's blouse, effectively alienating the one girl he really admires. During a brief, optimistic period, he stands up to Rabbit's gang, coaches Richard (at his father's instigation) for $3.00 an hour, and enters his junior high school's Field Day--a giant step in his terms. His last-yards run, however, is slowed by his drunken father's appearance on the track, a humiliating episode that Mazer turns into a personal victory: at least Willis knows he can count on himself and that other kids remember his speed rather than the embarrassing intrusion. Without the rounded appeal and humanity of The Dollar Man (1974), this is, nonetheless, another resilient Mazer teenager mastering a hard-knocks education.