How sixth-grader Ben Arrow, his younger-but-bigger sister Kara, and their mother survive the first year after their father cuts out to ""live his own life."" With Mom working and money short, the family has trouble keeping up the house and lawn; tempers too are frayed, but the kids turn in at home and take on part-time jobs outside, and they all take a new look at priorities. (""Let the lawn go,"" suggests Ben--a sensible proposal in rainless Arizona.) Reordered priorities are involved in Ben's friendships, too, as he loosens ties with respectable but weak-spirited Arnold and takes up with scraggly outcast Joe Tepper (seen here a year or more before The Liberation of. . . , 1976)--whose loyalty to Ben eventually wins Mom's acceptance. Rewards are of the heartwarming sort--most notable a litter of new puppies to share with Joe--and Dexter ends with a sudden flood that damages the house but doesn't break the family's will to pull together. A drab, decent slice of uplift realism.