In contrast to the quiet, peaceful lives of the Baxters, their nearest neighbors, the Forresters, are loud, argumentative, and prone to being troublemakers. Jody finds their zest for life and their free and easy ways appealing. But relations between the Baxters and the Forresters are strained when Penny and Jody intervene in a fight between Lem Forrester and a friend of the family.
When the Baxters' hogs go missing, Penny and Jody venture into the scrub to search for them, suspecting that the Forresters are responsible. On the hunt Penny is bitten by a rattlesnake and nearly dies. While he is recovering from the snake bite, Penny allows Jody to take in a motherless fawn and raise it as a pet. Jody names the fawn Flag, and the deer becomes Jody's constant companion.
When reality strikes, and the family finds themselves facing hunger because of the deer, Jody must make decisions that will take him through the passage from boyhood to manhood.