Howard Gardner is starving to death. All spring and summer, Howard and his older, stronger brother, Jack, worked as hoggees, driving the mules that pulled boats along the Erie Canal. But Jack has gone home for the winter, and Howard has gotten himself into serious trouble. In a misguided attempt to outshine his brother, Howard stays behind in Birchport to save his traveling money and send it home to his family. After his winter job falls through, Howard must burrow next to the mules in the barn for warmth and fight the wild dogs for scraps of leftovers from the inn. Howard fears, with reason, that he might not survive the winter. As desperate as Howard is, he is haunted by the sadness he sees in the eyes of Sarah, the granddaughter of the man who keeps the mules. Sarah never speaks and seem to be disconnected from the world around her. Sarah’s family know that she has a problem, but they refuse to talk about it. Howard longs to help Sarah in any way that he can, and his quest to do show ultimately shows how he truly compares to his brother.
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