Palmer does not want to be a wringer, but every 10-year-old boy is expected to play his part at the annual Pigeon Day shoot, wringing the necks of any still-living pigeons after they have been shot at by adult sharpshooters. This is a job thought suitably man-making by everyone except Palmer himself. Especially after he is befriended by an especially intelligent-seeming pigeon.
The novel is a moving study of the tension between individual sensibilities and the male craving to be one of the guys. Spinelli's portrait of Palmer's three main friends (who nickname him Snots, and freeze out Dorothy, a friend from his early years) is masterly. So is his handling of the gradual shift in young Palmer's attitudes between his ninth and his 10th birthdays.
More orthodox in aim and execution is Elizabeth Laird's Leopard Trail (Macmillan pound;2.99), set in Kenya, the first in a new animal adventure series, Wild Things, with a cast enjoyably demarcated into goodies and baddies.