The books center around three Catholic brothers in a predominately Mormon Utah town back in 1896. It was a time when boys swam naked in the swimming hole (having been taught to swim by getting thrown in the deep end), were quarantined for the mumps, learned tolerance for others by fighting, played with homemade sling shots, and polished silver on the back porch every Saturday morning.
John, seven years old, tells the story of his brother Tom, the ten year old Great Brain. The eldest brother, Sweyn, shows up on occasion. Not for the faint of heart, the story covers fighting and wrestling for respect, a shop owner dying of starvation, a boy stepping on a rusty nail (not telling his parents because he was disobeying at the time) and loosing a leg, the boys ruining the reputation of a harsh schoolmaster by hiding liquor in his room, and the narrator trying to help his friend commit suicide. All of these adventures have a larger meaning, though, and I think are well presented for what they are.
The story is humorous, with serious moments thrown in just as they are in real life. The occasional illustration by Mercer Mayer adds to the book. My main complaint is the length of the chapters. They seem to go on and on and on. I would prefer the story broken up in smaller chunks for bedtime reading. The book was too easy to put off if I didn't have time or energy to make it through a long chapter!