Josh and his mother leave their home in Mobile, Alabama and move to the remote New Mexico town of Sagrado while his father joins the Navy for the tail end of WWII. There he befriends Steenie, the obstetrician's son who is a font of anatomical wisdom; Marcia, "Marcia's old man is rector of St. Thomas's Episcopal, but don't bother watching your language," Steenie says as he introduces her to Josh; and a plethora of other colorful characters, young and old, Anglo, Mexican, and Indian.
Josh's constantly evolving understanding of people as people who deserve respect as opposed to types who need to be put in their place--whether that place is underfoot or on a pillar--is a recurring theme. There is an excellent scene in which Josh's mother, with all her Southern breeding, tries to patronize the cook's daughter who is Josh's guest at dinner.
"Has your family been in America long, dear?" my mother asked her condescendingly.
"Not too long, Mrs. Arnold," Victoria answered. "By America, do you mean what's now Mexico or what's now the United States?"
"Well, I suppose I mean here. Around Sagrado."
"I'll have to figure it out in my head," Victoria said. She closed an eye and mumbled something like, "Eight from fifteen, seven, borrow one," and announced, "Three hundred and forty-seven. No, forty-six. They came in August."
Mostly, this is simply a book about a smart kid open to his surroundings and on the cusp of adulthood and independence. It's really funny in parts and incredibly poignant in others and amazingly timeless in its delivery. I'm not the only one to think of it as a small classic, but I'll add my voice to the chorus. Read and enjoy.