As the novel is from the point of view of a child, the plot is loosely constructed. We meet Paddy’s family and friends through a random variety of events.
Paddy lives with his mother and father, his brother Sinbad and his two younger sisters. Paddy and Sinbad fight a lot but in general the family seem happy.
The Clarkes are not well off - when Sinbad loses a shoe his mother punishes him, knowing she cannot easily afford a new pair. But as there is a working parent in the household the children do not go without.
The warm Clarke family environment is emphasised by the contrast with the families of Paddy’s gang of friends.
For example, Paddy describes the family set up in Liam and Aidan O’Connell’s household where the widowed Mr O’Connell has moved his girlfriend in.
We meet Paddy’s gang through a variety of mischievous scrapes, stealing from a building site for example. We see them forcing Paddy’s little brother Sinbad to hold lighter fuel in his mouth whilst Liam ignites it.
There are scenes of bullying and cruelty in the gang as the boys develop a hierarchy. At this point Kevin seems to be the head of the group and the others tend to concede to whatever he says or wants to do.
Paddy comes across as a bright boy who is curious about the world. His father helps him with homework and he recounts the books he reads.
He is fascinated with history and many of the new games he creates come from things he has read in books.
Inspired by reading about Saint Damien of Molokai, Paddy tells his parents that he wants to be a missionary. Paddy’s parents argue about this.
There are moments of tension between his parents at this stage but they are infrequent.
Paddy describes life at school and the routine learning in Mr Hennessey’s class. Despite this there is much comedy in his observations.
He enjoys watching old films in the school hall, Laurel and Hardy and The Three Stooges for example.
The boys are influenced in their games by these films - with Kevin poking Paddy in the eyes and injuring him while copying a film’s slapstick comedy.