Mean old man Hooker is the bane of 13-year-old Arney's existence. Times are tough anyway: there's never enough money since Pa got killed in the war against Hitler; neighbors count on generous, patient Ma, especially as a midwife, but never pay her much. Hooker drove his only child, Amelia, away after his wife's death; he's incorrigibly rude, mean to animals, and has turned old Granny Stallcap out of her home. Arney is so angry that he plots to kill Hooker, but ironically ends by saving his life instead--three times: once from drowning, once from an exploding outhouse (Arney himself set the dynamite, but thought better of it), once from Hooker's own burning house. But it takes a still more extraordinary event--Arney and his younger sister are Amelia's only attendants during the birth of her first child--to mellow Hooker, slightly. The dialect used in Arney's first-person narrative adds a degree of difficulty here, while also contributing to the authentically evoked rural northern California setting. Still, the story is lively, with boyish shenanigans lending as much suspense as Arney's vendetta. Even given the provocation, his planned violence seems a bit much; but the beautifully realized scene when the kids are forced to act as emergency midwives makes this a special book.