Though he thinks of himself as a cowboy, Tommy is really a bully. He's always playing cruel jokes on classmates or stealing from the store. But Tommy has a reason: life at home is tough. His abusive mother isn't well. In fact, she may be mentally ill. His sister, Mary Lou, is in the hospital, badly burned from doing a chore it was really Tommy's turn to do. To make amends, Tommy takes over Mary Lou's paper route. But the paper route also becomes the perfect way for Tommy to investigate his neighbors after stumbling across a copy of The Daily Worker, a communist newspaper. Tommy is shocked to learn that one of his neighbors could be a communist, and soon fear takes hold of the tight-knit community when Tommy uses the paper to frame a storeowner, Mr. McKenzie. As Mr. McKenzie's business slowly falls apart and Mary Lou doesn't seem to get any better, Tommy's mother's abuse gets worse—and Tommy reaches his breaking point.