The intense friendship between Kate Leuthi and wild, ""unadoptable"" Tommy begins when she is nine and suffering from her own busy parents' inattention and he is taken in by neighbor Melicey Adams, his fourth ""mother"" and the first good one. Kate delights in Tommy's bad company despite some ominous flashes of temper and his severe withdrawal after Melicey dies when he is twelve. At 13, though, Kate violates their friendship by demonstrating sexual feelings still alien to him; and after that she sees little of him, only hearing about his violent ""crazy"" behavior and eventual (mental) hospitalization. On her own, Kate has a brief affair with a married priest, which leaves her pregnant at 17 in an unwed mothers' home where adoption is arranged. But Tommy's image continues to haunt and terrify her, and shortly after her return home he turns up, brutally raping her and preparing to kill them both when her belatedly caring parents come to the rescue. The events are undeniably melodramatic, the priest's behavior hard to credit, and the whole terrible course of events almost seems rigged just to illustrate the dismal consequences of parental neglect. However, the surfaces and moments of the story are consistently, insidiously truer and brighter than the outline. The two children's fierce and joyous relationship, the drab, genteel ""home"" for pregnant girls and Kate's abortive but spirited rebellion there, Kate's helplessness and muddled sensations as a hospital emergency patient--all help to make this a case of the parts adding up to more than the whole.