Doug Swieteck’s life is anything but ideal.
His abusive father makes life miserable for his family, and as the youngest of three sons, Doug frequently takes the brunt of his rage. The older Swieteck boys seem to be following in their father’s footsteps; his brother Lucas only stopped beating up Doug when he got drafted and sent to Vietnam. Doug’s sole ally in the family is his mother, a gentle woman with a beautiful smile who struggles constantly to placate her husband but retains an amazing capacity to nurture and love.
When Doug’s father is fired from his job, the family moves upstate from Long Island to the small town of Marysville. Before they leave, Holling Hoodhood, one of Doug’s friends from Camillo Junior High, brings him a parting gift: a New York Yankees jacket that had been given to him by Joe Pepitone. Doug’s father’s shady friend Ernie Eco secured a new home for the Swietecks. It is squalid, and Doug christens it “The Dump.” He is pleased that the place at least has a basement where he can hide his jacket from the vindictive grasp of his middle brother.
Doug is befriended by Lil Spicer, a smart, feisty girl whose father owns Spicer’s Deli. Lil’s father gives Doug a job delivering groceries on Saturdays. Mr. Swieteck takes the money his son makes every week but does not know about the tips. Lil brings some daisies over so Mrs. Swieteck can have a garden, but after they are planted, Doug’s brother spits on them.
In September, Doug starts the eighth grade at Washington Irving Junior High and immediately gets off on the wrong foot with condescending Principal Peattie. Lil introduces Doug to the local library, where he is drawn to a folio by John James Audubon, which is displayed in a glass case and opened to a plate of the Arctic Tern, a falling bird with a “terrified eye.” When Doug returns to the library to see the masterpiece again, Mr. Powell, an artistic employee, recognizes his interest and teaches him how to draw the bird. Doug has talent, and for the first time in his life, he experiences pride in his work. But one Saturday, the plate of the Arctic Tern is gone, replaced by another, the Large-Billed Puffins. The city is mutilating the Audubon folio and selling the valuable plates one by one to pay its debts.
Spicer’s Deli is robbed one night, and the police suspect Doug’s brother. As the new kid in town, Doug already feels out of place, but...
(The entire section is 2785 words.)
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Chapter 1 Summary
Doug Swieteck's most prized possession is a signed baseball cap given to him by his hero, the great Joe Pepitone. It is "the only thing [he] ever owned that hadn't belonged to some other Swieteck before [him]."
Despite his efforts to keep it safe, however, Doug's brother wrestles the cap away from him one night out of sheer meanness, and passes it off to his friends, until eventually, it is lost. Doug tries to convince his father to take him to Yankee Stadium so that he can see Joe Pepitone again and maybe get another hat. His father is a drunk and responds to his son's entreaties characteristically—with his fists.
Mr. Swieteck has a terrible chip on his shoulder, and when he mouths off to his boss one day, he is unceremoniously fired. He comes home and announces to his family that his friend Ernie Eco has found him a better job at Ballard Paper Mill. They will be moving to Marysville, in upstate New York. Doug's mother is not happy that her husband is renewing his acquaintance with Ernie, who is nothing but trouble, and she is worried that they will not be able to notify their oldest son, Lucas, who is serving in Vietnam, about the move. She has no say in the matter however. Three days later, the Swietecks have everything packed and are ready to leave. Before they go, Holling Hoodhood, a classmate of Doug's from Camillo Junior High School, comes by with a gift. It is the New York Yankees jacket that Holling had received from Joe Pepitone on the same day that Doug had gotten his cap.
The new house at Marysville is small and filthy, and Doug immediately christens it "The Dump." After the big items are unloaded from the truck, Doug is left alone to finish with the smaller boxes, while the rest of the family goes to a diner to get something to eat. When Doug is finished, he goes down into the basement, where he hides the precious jacket that had belonged to Joe Pepitone. He then goes out to explore "stupid Marysville" and runs into a girl his age, riding a bicycle. He approaches her insolently, then, realizing that he sounds "like Lucas when he was being the biggest jerk he could be," softens his tone. The girl is going to the library, and for some reason, Doug follows.
The library in Marysville is an impressive building with six marble steps leading toward the grand entrance. Doug, who has never been in a library before, explores the interior and ends up in a big, open upstairs room housing a square...
(The entire section is 812 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Doug arrives at the library early the following Saturday. He is reprimanded by the disagreeable librarian, Mrs. Merriam, for sitting on the front steps. Doug is rude right back to her but then realizes that he sounds "just like Lucas." A second library employee, Mr. Powell, is much friendlier and lets Doug into the library early. When Doug returns to the room where The Arctic Tern is displayed, Mr. Powell comes up and, seeing Doug's interest, informs him that the work's artist is John James Audubon. Mr. Powell asks Doug if he would like to try re-creating the picture himself, but Doug answers curtly, "I don't draw."
On Doug's first day working at the deli, Mr. Spicer gives him a packed wagon and a map with the houses of the customers marked on it. Doug has a difficult time matching the hand-drawn letters on the map to the letters on the street signs. He must ask passersby how to get to some of the locations. Before the morning is done, he delivers two more wagon-loads of goods. His last trip is to the home of Mrs. Windermere, who Lil has intimated is quite a difficult character.
The Windemere residence is "the biggest house [Doug has] ever seen." He hears typing coming from within. He rings and knocks several times before the typing stops and a woman with a cloud of white hair comes to the door. Mrs. Windemere, a writer, is clearly annoyed at being disturbed while she is working. She tells Doug impatiently to let himself in by the back way and to put the groceries away in the kitchen.
When he has dispatched the order as directed, Doug remembers that he is supposed to collect payment. With much fear, he approaches Mrs. Windemere again. The exasperated woman gives him the money and dismisses him, but on the way out, Doug gets lost in the labyrinthine, book-filled house. He finds himself in a room at the end of a short hall. The room is tastefully decorated, and over the fireplace, there is a picture of birds, which Doug instinctively recognizes as having been rendered by John James Audubon. In this depiction, a mother bird looks into the distance, while a little bird sits uncertainly by her feet.
Doug goes to the library after work and finds that someone has left sheets of drawing paper and some colored pencils on the display case of The Arctic Tern. Doug does not touch the materials, however, since he "[doesn't] draw." At supper that night, Doug's father asks if he got paid and...
(The entire section is 787 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Doug goes to the library every Saturday to practice drawing with Mr. Powell. For his first lesson, he is guided to examine Audubon's rendering of The Arctic Tern, and he tries to reproduce it. Doug shows a natural affinity for composition, and he is gratified when Mr. Powell addresses him as "young artist."
On the first Monday of September, Doug goes with his mother to a "Get-Acquainted" event for all new students at Washington Irving Junior High School. Doug is the only eighth-grader who is a newcomer. He is sent with a group of seventh-graders to a classroom to listen to a presentation by Principal Peattie, a pompous man with the irritating habit of speaking of himself in the third person. The principal goes over a seemingly endless list of rules with the students, and Doug arouses his ire when he mouths-off and refuses to read aloud the next rule on a long, mimeographed list. The evening is not a total loss, however. When the ordeal at the junior high school is over, Doug takes his mother out for ice cream and pays for it himself from the tips he has managed to keep from his father.
When Doug returns to the library again, he finds that The Arctic Tern is gone. In its place is a work titled The Large-Billed Puffins, which he does not like nearly as much. Doug can see that the page that held the first drawing has actually been cut out of the book, but Mr. Powell evades his queries as to the work's fate and encourages him to continue working on his own reproduction of The Arctic Tern from memory.
Later that night, Doug's brother comes home and harasses him about all the time he spends at the library. He scornfully accuses Doug of not being able to read. Doug is angry at first, but then finds himself inexplicably thinking wistfully about The Arctic Tern and its desperate fall, and Lucas, far away in Vietnam. After his brother falls asleep, Doug takes out his drawing of the bird. By the dim glow of a flashlight, he tries to get the wing he is laboring over just right. He works on the picture for most of the night. In the morning, when the police come to the door looking for his brother because they suspect him in the overnight robbery at Spicer's Deli, Doug can say with certainty that his brother did not do it.
The police are convinced that Doug's brother is the culprit, but as they have no evidence, they cannot arrest him. Doug's father comes home with...
(The entire section is 811 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
As Doug continues to progress with his drawing lessons under Mr. Powell, he begins to actually think of himself as an artist. To his delight, Lil, with characteristic honesty, affirms his new self-concept. At school, the teachers ignore Doug for the most part, except in science, where he earns Mr. Ferris's approval on a science project he completes in conjunction with Lil. All in all, Doug is proud that he is managing to stay out of trouble; he even escapes the detection of Coach Reed when he surreptitiously switches from the skins to the shirts team in basketball.
On the last Saturday in October, Doug discovers that The Large-Billed Puffins, like The Arctic Tern, is gone. It is replaced by The Black-Backed Gull, a heartbreaking representation of a bird with a broken wing and blood streaming from its breast, in the throes of death. It is the most horrible picture that Doug has ever seen, and he cannot stop looking at it. That same day, Mr. Powell is finally forced to answer Doug's constant queries as to the fate of the first two prints in the Audubon book. He admits that they are being sold piecemeal, because the Town Council of Marysville needs the money.
At school, Doug is finally caught by Coach Reed in PE class for switching from the skins to the shirts team. He is sent to Principal Peattie's office and is given eight days in detention, but Doug barely hears the administrator as he passes down his sentence. Instead, Doug is mesmerized by the picture hanging behind Principal Peattie's desk. It is a copy of The Brown Pelican, by John James Audubon.
Doug is assigned to serve his detention with Mr. Ferris, and when the kind educator takes the time to introduce him to the periodic table, he discovers "what no teacher had figured out before" - Doug Swieteck cannot read. Mr. Ferris consults with his colleague Miss Cowper, and the English teacher begins working with Doug after school to acquaint him with the rudiments of phonics. Doug catches on quickly, and wonders in amazement, "How come no one ever told me this stuff?"
Now that he has mastered the basics of literacy, Doug is able to tackle his Jane Eyre assignment on his own. He carries the book with him on his delivery route, and finds that his customers are interested in his scholarly endeavors; Mrs. Daugherty even asks him if he can babysit the little Daughertys on Saturday evenings, and read them their...
(The entire section is 772 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Doug essentially shuts down in the aftermath of his humiliation. He stops trying in school and gets in constant fights. In PE class, he decides to run the cross-country course while the rest of the class does the Wrestling Unit, and Coach Reed sees him but does not stop him. Doug does not even go to the library anymore to continue his drawing lessons; the only activity he continues with is his delivery job, because his father demands the money.
The last thing Doug wants to do on the last Saturday in October is attend the Annual Ballard Paper Mill Employee Picnic, but even though his father constantly bad-mouths both his boss and the event, he makes the family go because he and Ernie Eco want to win the Trivia Contest that will be held on the topic of baseball. Despite Mr. Swieteck's cynical attitude, the picnic turns out to be an awesome event. The women come right up and invite Mrs. Swieteck into their circle, and Doug and his brother each receive genuine Timex watches. The food is great, and Doug's classmate James Russell invites him to go swimming. Doug declines the invitation however, as the activity would require him to remove his shirt.
Doug wanders over to the horseshoe pits, and is experimenting with his technique when an "old guy" joins him, and instructs him in the rudiments of the sport. When the Trivia Contest is announced, the man asks Doug if he wants to be his partner. The generous prizes include parking spots by the mill entrance for a year, a fifty-dollar bonus for each partner, and a baseball signed by Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, and Joe Pepitone. Doug is amazingly knowledgeable about baseball trivia, and he and his partner win the contest, much to the chagrin of Mr. Swieteck and Ernie Eco. It is a complete surprise to Doug when he finds out, at the end of the competition, that his partner, the "old guy," is none other than the owner of the company, Mr. Bob Ballard himself.
Mr. Ballard tells Doug to stop by his office on Monday to pick up his prizes, but on the way home, Mr. Swieteck convinces his son that he should not count on receiving anything, so he does not go. The fights continue on at school, and on Friday, Doug takes a different route home, which happens to take him right by the paper mill. He decides to stop in to visit Mr. Ballard, and sees his father's and Ernie Eco's cars parked in...
(The entire section is 809 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Doug continues to run with James Russell and Otis Bottom during PE while the rest of the class does the wrestling unit. On the week before Thanksgiving, Doug is summoned into the principal’s office and told that because he has been cutting PE class for weeks, he will have to make up the entire wrestling unit during his fifth period lunch. Doug argues that he has been out running and that Coach Reed has seen him go out every day and has never said a word, but Principal Peattie is unyielding. Even though James Russell and Otis Bottom have been out running too, they are not required to make up the time. After pronouncing his sentence, the principal lets Doug go. But in dismissing him, the principal says something so demoralizing that Doug cannot bring himself to repeat it.
Things are going better again on Doug’s delivery route. His customers are cordial and invite him in for refreshments. On Saturday nights, he babysits for the Daugherty children, and then Mr. Daugherty drives him home in his police car. At the library, Doug is learning about advanced composition in The Snowy Heron. But despite all the positive developments in his life, he finds that he is unhappy and irritable. Doug cannot get Principal Peattie’s damning words off his mind.
The day before Thanksgiving, the Swietecks receive a postcard from Lucas. It is in someone else’s writing and says that he will be home by mid-December. On Thanksgiving, Mrs. Swieteck cooks a huge, twenty-two-pound turkey sent by Mr. Ballard.
When school begins again after the long weekend, Doug starts the wrestling unit in PE, but he does not try. When Coach Reed challenges him, the whole class joins in support of their classmate, making a farce of the whole lesson by engaging in endless circling and refusing to fight. No one looks at Doug when he goes into the locker room and takes off his shirt. Doug thinks of the proud and beautiful Snowy Heron and realizes that “he’s okay for now.”
Lucas comes home as promised in the middle of December. Doug and his parents go to New York City in the truck Mr. Swieteck has bought with the company picnic trivia contest winnings he stole from Doug. When the bus arrives and the soldiers disembark, Lucas is nowhere to be seen, so Doug’s mother climbs into the bus and runs to the back, where her son his waiting in a wheelchair. Lucas’s eyes are bandaged and his legs are gone, but his mother does...
(The entire section is 808 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
It snows every Saturday during January and into February. Doug is forced to make his deliveries using a toboggan instead of a wagon, but the discomfort of his job is lessened because of the kindness of his customers. Each of them invites him in for conversation and a warm treat; Doug looks forward especially to his time with Mrs. Windermere, who serves him actual coffee, black. Mrs. Windermere's stage adaptation is coming along nicely, and though she informs him that people are "already lining up to buy tickets," Doug cannot understand why anyone would pay to see a production of Jane Eyre.
At the library, The Snowy Heron is now gone from the Audubon collection, like the five pages before it. Under Mr. Powell's tutelage, Doug begins working on The Forked-Tailed Petrel, trying to capture the artist's intertwining of movement and tension. At school, things are "mostly okay." In math, Doug is placed, along with Lil, in an accelerated group to study Advanced Algebra. In PE, he begins work on the Physical Fitness charts for Coach Reed, and finds that a better rapport is developing between himself and the adversarial teacher.
Things are not going as well at home, where Lucas spends most of his days sitting in sullen silence; when the injured vet does speak, he is "his old jerk self again." Lucas has been forced to miss most of his doctors' appointments because his father will not take him. Mrs. Swieteck tries to care for him as best she can on her own, but, tormented by nightmares, Lucas sinks ever more deeply into bitterness and depression. In desperation, Doug seizes the moment one dark day and stands up to his brother; when Lucas makes a typically surly comment, Doug tells him flatly, "You don't even try." In the heated exchange that follows, Doug rips the bandages off his older sibling's face, causing Lucas to freeze, then blink and turn his blind eyes towards the light. With amazement in his voice, Lucas says, "I think I see you."
James Russell has heard about Doug's interest in drawing birds at the library, and invites his friend over to his house because he believes one of the missing Audubon prints is there. James's father is the First Flutist of the New York Philharmonic, and the Russell home is beautiful beyond imagination. Mr. Russell welcomes Doug, and plays a piece by his favorite composer, Aaron Copland, for him. Afterwards, James takes Doug upstairs, where on the third floor,...
(The entire section is 837 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
Just when Doug starts to believe that his life really has taken a turn for the better, he arrives home one Saturday to find that his autographed baseball and beloved Joe Pepitone jacket are gone. Shortly thereafter, the local hardware store is robbed, and suspicion falls again on his brother, Christopher. Even though Christopher denies having had any involvement in the break-in, a bike pedal matching one missing from his bike is found at the scene of the crime. When Christopher is taken into custody, Doug runs to Ballard Paper Mill to get his father, who looks meaningfully at Ernie Eco before leaving with Doug to bail Christopher out of jail.
As expected, news travels quickly, and when Doug returns to school, he is met with accusing looks everywhere he turns. Demoralized, he begins to cut classes, and is called into Principal Peattie's office for disciplinary action. The principal imposes a punishment of three days detention, and in an uncharacteristic but ineffective attempt at understanding, tells Doug that he has to "face the facts" and admit that his brother is a criminal. Doug barely hears what the principal has to say because he is preoccupied with the framed copy of The Brown Pelican which hangs behind the administrator's desk. When the lecture is over, the boy boldly makes the proposition that when his brother is exonerated, the picture of the bird should be returned to the library. Surprisingly, after much deliberation, Principal Peattie agrees.
As Doug is walking home, jacketless in the cold after his third day of detention, Mr. Ballard drives by and invites him to his office for a game of horseshoes. There, the kind man gives the boy an orchid for his mother and and "old" flight jacket that "doesn't fit [him] anymore," telling him gently, "Things will work out." On Saturday, all of Doug's customers comment on his "snazzy" new look, and Mrs. Windermere says that, wearing the jacket, he resembles the actor Errol Flynn. At the library, both Mr. Powell and Lil compliment Doug on his stylish appearance; although Doug appreciates all the approbation, it is Lil's praise that thrills him most of all. During their drawing lesson, Mr. Powell and Doug discuss elements of composition and stability in The Brown Pelican from memory. Afterwards, Doug works alone on a school project he is completing in conjunction with Lil, when his friend goes home early with a stomach ache.
On April first, Doug...
(The entire section is 783 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Spring finally arrives on the first Saturday in May. On his delivery route, Doug takes Lil with him to meet Mrs. Windermere, and the two young people walk hand-in-hand through the burgeoning greenery of the fields leading to the woman's house. When Doug introduces Lil to the eccentric writer, Mrs. Windermere candidly asks if Lil is his girlfriend. With more than a little embarrassment, Doug replies, "Yes."
Mrs. Windermere has a visitor, a man named Mr. Gregory, who will be producing her stage adaptation of Jane Eyre. Mr. Gregory has been having problems finding an actress to play the part of Helen Burns, but when he sees Lil, he immediately decides that she is perfect for the part. Lil protests that she is not an actress, but finally agrees to consider playing Helen if a part can be found for Doug too. Doug is cast as the voice of Bertha Mason, the "insane woman who has been locked in an attic for a great many years;" his only "line" will be a blood-curdling shriek. Since Lil will have a "real" part and will need time to learn her lines, Doug "volunteers" to do the bulk of the work in a joint project they have been assigned in geography. In exchange for Doug's cooperation, Mrs. Windermere intimates that she will do something that she knows he will appreciate - she has bought The Snowy Heron, but will give it back to him to return to the library.
When the teachers at Washington Irving Junior High School learn that Doug and Lil are going to appear in a Broadway play, they are unilaterally supportive. At the library, Mr. Powell goes through the pages of the Audubon book and shows Doug The Great Esquimaux Curlew, which, with its balanced, regal presentation is "an actor if there ever was one." On the way to their rehearsals in New York City, Doug helps Lil practice her lines, and it is not long before he knows them by heart too, and, as it turns out, Doug is a great shrieker for his own part as well.
Lucas manages to get three jobs in May, but gets fired from all of them in short order because of his handicaps. Vestiges of his old anger reappear, and when he talks to his youngest sibling after losing his last job, Doug can tell in the dim light that he is crying.
During the week leading up to Jane Eyre's opening, Lil has stomach aches almost every day, which she attributes to the nervous habit she has developed of chewing on pencils to the point that she literally...
(The entire section is 760 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
The doctors give Lil a one in four chance of surviving.
On the first Saturday in June, Doug reports to work at Spicer's Deli. He is told by Mr. Spicer that he can no longer keep Doug in his employ, as Lil's hospital bills have left him with no money with which to pay, but Doug stays on anyway. All of his customers that day have good wishes and gifts to send to Lil, which Doug accepts gratefully, but when Mrs. Windermere asks him about his girlfriend's situation, he cannot help but break down and cry. At the library, Mr. Powell has Doug begin work on adding color to his replication of The Arctic Tern. The kind man suggests that the finished product will be a surprise for Lil.
Doug then visits Lil, who is confined to bed at the hospital with a variety of needles stuck into her arm. Lil tries to be brave and makes plans for their future together, and Doug lies next to her for a bit in the hospital bed, under the blankets. Lil expresses to her friend the terror she is feeling, saying, "I sure hope I'm the one in four." In consoling her, Doug is overcome with the conviction that Lil is indeed going to be all right.
On the second Saturday in June, Doug is surprised to find Lucas waiting for him in front of the library. Lucas is discouraged and a more than a little bitter after a morning of unsuccessful job-hunting, but something of his fighting spirit remains intact. Refusing his brother's offer of help, Lucas laboriously pulls himself in his wheelchair up the six steps leading to the front door of the building. When he finally reaches the top, he rests there for a minute with a defiant sense of pride. At that moment, the door opens, and Coach Reed comes out of the library. Assessing the situation, he comments favorably on Lucas's strength, and offers him a job as Assistant Junior High School Gym Coach at Washington Irving. Lucas, not quite able to bring himself to believe that the offer is genuine, reacts cynically at first, but Coach Reed, understanding, does not make an issue of his response. Coach simply tells Lucas that if he shows up on Monday at seven, the job is his, and on Monday, Lucas leaves the house on his own, and wheels himself to his new place of employment.
The teachers at school pile work on the students during the last weeks of the term. The new assistant coach in PE is a stern taskmaster, and in science, Mr. Ferris announces that in a month, Apollo 11 will blast off to...
(The entire section is 868 words.)