Nick, 13, is holding his family together. His mother is grieving for her own mother, Gabby, who has just died. Christa, his eight-year-old sister; his toddler brother; and Nick exist without an adult figure in their lives and on thrown-together meals. Their father has escaped from a minimum-security prison and is holed up in the cellar demanding food and beer. Nick gradually realizes that he can neither handle nor cure the man's problems. He tries to understand his mother's grief, and observes his family eventually emerge from mourning to confront his father. Maggio's characters, except for a babysitter who is always sleeping and seems tossed in for a little gratuitous humor, are memorable. Readers know that the family will make it when Nick and his mother create a Christmas celebration, and the music from Gabby's treasured music box opens the way for her to live as happily in their memories as she once lived in their lives.