His grandmother, Gabby, described Nick as ""like a border collie--good-natured, hardworking, loyal, and a little bit anxious""--a lot like Gabby herself. As Nick explains, Gabby always took care of him and the two younger children; unreliable Dad drinks and has been in prison; Ma has a job but isn't much of a coper. Now Gabby is dead, and Ma (after providing a babysitter who sleeps so much that the kids don't even know whether ""Peabody"" is male or female) seems to have abdicated all responsibility. Nick fills in by feeding and comforting everyone--even Dad, who has escaped from jail and is hiding in the basement--and by trying, on his own, to make Christmas happen. But by Christmas Eve, Ma has begun to reach out to her children and to share the load, and even Dad shows signs of becoming more reliable; Nick himself is able to summon the courage to stand up to Dad when he vacillates about calling the police to turn himself in as a first step toward a better life. With deft characterizations, gentle humor, and quietly telling detail, Maggio draws a believable picture of a troubled family groping for a new balance after a devastating loss. A heartwarming story.