When his father is forced to leave his home in the bayou to seek work, fourteen year-old Jean is left to take care of the family. Jean faces a maturing experience which includes dealing with the dangers of the swamp, an escaped convict, and the recognition that a new and different way of life is ahead of him.
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Jean LeBlanc dreaded seeing Papa have to leave the bayou country to go miles out into the Gulf of Mexico to work in the off-shore oilfields, but he is big and strong for his age. Too, he has his faifful dog, Old Red Gravy, which is a fearless fighter. Right off, Nancy Lou, his baby sister, came down sick with chills and high fever. Mama LeBlanc was worried. Nancy Lou needed quinine, and other medicine, and there wasn't any money to buy it. But Jean made a big catch on his trotline. He sacked up the cat fish and carried them to Johnson City and sold them at Rossi's fish market for enough money to buy the medicine, candy and a trinket for Nancy Lou. Jean learns that Boo Ducote, a convicted murderer, had escaped from Angola prison and was said to be hiding out in the "wilds".On his way home, Boo comes from the graveyard and forces Jean to give him the candy he'd bought for Nancy Lou.Also, Boo swore Jean to silence, or so he thought. From that moment on, Jean is kept busy trying to put food on the table, fight off wild hogs, and rescue Odette, a girl who has to help skin gators, and do other hard work, to keep her from being abused. Mama LeBlanc takes the girl, who is Jean's age, under her wings, and teaches her the ways of bayou women. Jean is tested in so many ways, and each time, he proves that he is worthy of taking his Papa's place. However, in the final showdown with Boo Ducote, Old Red Gravy saves Jean from Boo, but dies from the load of buckshot which hits him in the chest.Papa LeBlanc comes home at last, and he helps Odette pull Jean out of the deep well of depression.
Early that morning Jean saw the gator. It came lumbering across the swamp grunting like a wild hog.He heard the faint lashing of the tail against the dry marsh grass, saw the black horny head swing from side to side. . . This novel won 25 major literary awards and was made into a Walt Disney movie. I have received hundreds of letters from readers in Europe, Africa, Asia.