Almost-thirteen-year-old Chipper Carey is running with the Midnight Rats kid gang just to survive. Chipper doesn't normally like to think beyond the present. His past has been bad enough! Ma died of consumption when he was six. His short-lived stay with Aunt Millie and Uncle Bert consisted of endless beatings. He never even knew his father. Sure, Chipper feels badly about the gang's stealing and fighting. He knows Ma wouldn't have approved. He knows she wanted and expected a respectable life for him. What does it matter that even he sometimes feels he's different, maybe even better, than the rest of the gang?
What ultimately has to matter is reality, and without the Midnight Rats, Chipper would have nothing. He'd starve. He'd face thrashings more serious than those inflicted by the police. Worst of all, he'd be alone. Fortunately for Chipper, fate takes over and introduces him to the wealthy Miss Sibley. For once, it becomes possible for him to forget that the rich are the enemy. For once, like his Ma, someone else believes that he really was meant for something better.
Now Jack and Sally are beginning to wonder how long the rest of the family will be able to stay together, with so little money coming in. Jack's father keeps telling them to look on the bright side-his favorite song is "Happy Days Are Here Again." But Jack isn't sure there can be a bright side when you don't have enough money to live decently. Then, at the boat club, Jack sees an opportunity to steal a lot of money-enough to pay the family's back rent and keep them all together. For the first time in his life Jack is seriously tempted to steal-especially now that he realizes that his dad can't really be depended upon, that it's up to him to take care of the family.