Joe Tepper thinks emancipation is something that happened to the slaves until he learns a new meaning of the word when he's declared an emancipated teenager--free at fifteen to continue supporting himself with three menial jobs, to care for the retarded friend who helped him find a home after his alcoholic mother's death, and to stay away from school, where he failed despite a 120 I.Q. Initially, when he's sweating out a job at a bowling alley for $1.50 an hour and trying to deal with an emotionally sick mother so jealous of his dog that she hires a man to kill it, Joe has our sympathies. But Dexter turns this into a soap opera on the theme of Tepper and Friends against the whole world. Since Joe never expresses a flicker of doubt over the wisdom of his decision to avoid being placed in a foster home, one begins to wonder if he isn't just being stubborn. And after he wins the umpteenth victory--either with his fists or in a tear-besotted courtroom--it's the reader whose likely to petition for release.