With her usual sensitivity to adolescent emotional landscapes fully evident in these 12 (11 new) short stories, Johnson (Humming Whispers, 1995, etc.) explores the notion of giving or receiving help in time of need. The help in these pages may be shelter, unquestioning friendship, or a comforting story; it comes from parents, peers, an unexpected source. Sometimes it doesn't come at all, as in the opener, ""Sweetness,"" about a neglected child who can't get her church-focused mother's attention even by committing armed robbery. Several stories take surprising or humorous twists, such as ""By The Time You Read This,"" which, until the laugh-out-loud ending, has all the earmarks of a suicide note. In others, children pursue or struggle to understand wayward parents or life-changing events. Ranging from anecdotes to novels-in-miniature, they are all written with an economy of expression that will appeal to less-practiced readers while still precisely--brilliantly--conveying complex situations and responses.