Escaping the abusive conditions of a group foster home, Robert takes to the rails to seek the mother he doesn't remember. Little Abiah tags along; then they're joined by a homeless dog, ""Mutt."" At first, the world of 1932 in a large, mountainous, but undesignated part of the US is as cruel as the grasping people the boys have just escaped--even the man who offers them a few cents for selling his mistletoe turns out to be in cahoots with toughs who steal their money before they can give the man his share. Abiah is swept away on a freight that Robert can't jump onto in time; Mutt is lost under the ice; Robert himself finally makes it to Mill Springs, only to discover that his mother has moved on. He does find an old woman, in desperate need of care, in his mother's house. Abiah turns up on Christmas day (the day after Robert's 13th birthday), and the two are given the chance of sharing the woman's home with the financial help of concerned neighbors. Pendergraft (The Legend of Daisy Flowerdew, 1990) has talent and writes with vigor, but her details are so exaggerated that the reader is distanced by their implausibility rather than touched by the children's plight. Almost every character is a villain, an angel, or, like a runaway Robert meets, the victim of melodrama: his parents had insisted on sending him to a private school where his brother had been brain damaged by a beating. The author's use of dialect is flavorful but inconsistent: narrator Robert sometimes lapses into standard English when he quotes his own dialogue. A flawed effort.