After his dad left years ago, Jesse and his mom moved in with her father. Pappy has been like a father to Jesse, teaching him ""about fairness or taking care of the land or standing up for what's right,"" and about camping and tracking around their small, drought-ridden California town. But Pappy's in his 80s; his memory has begun to wander, and Mom's afraid the burned pots and carelessly dropped cigarettes presage a tragic accident. Jesse, protective, takes to lying about Pappy's lapses in hopes of keeping him at home, though he's more and more taxed in trying to conceal Pappy's inadvertent escapades -- and incredulous of Pappy's report of tiger tracks nearby. After one of Pappy's cigarettes does start a fire, Mom tries to place him in a home but can't bring herself to do it. Koertge establishes his characters -- including some sharply drawn locals and eighthgrader Jesse's diverse and colorful friends -- in some marvelously witty opening scenes; the comic banter of Jesse and his mom makes their later conflict over what to do about Pappy particularly poignant. There's no answer here; the best hope is that fate will intervene before they're forced to take away his freedom. Meanwhile, Jesse realizes that his lies, while intended to protect Pappy, have often contributed to events going dangerously out of control. A consistently entertaining novel that moves swiftly to its thoughtful conclusion.