This first novel by Holbrooke (Gossip: How to Get it Before It Gets You and Other Suggestions for Social Survival, 1983) is a dreary, miscalculated effort to elevate patchy melodrama by showing it through the eyes of a child. A little girl grows up fast by witnessing the tragic games her parents play over two consecutive summers. The summer Allie Gardner is 11, her main pleasure is visiting a handsome lifeguard at the beach by her woodsy, affluent suburb. She aches to tell this gentle man about the nightly scenes caused by her father's alcoholism, but she doesn't think he would understand. Allie also has to entertain her father so her beautiful but weak mother can spend time with Bruce, the boyish contractor hired to install the patio. Allie thinks her mother wonderfully lovable--even after she leaves Allie in an illegally parked car, causing a bloody crackup that knocks out all of Allie's baby teeth and possibly kills the other driver. The next summer is even uglier for Allie: her mother dreams of running away to Europe with a snob named Erich, and by now her father is a hopeless, murderous drunk. The night before Labor Day, he breaks Allie's toes and chokes her while her mother does nothing. The next day, the tensions that have been building all summer are resolved in a chilling incident--followed by a strange, violent footnote just to underscore the loss of innocence. Catcher in the Rye this isn't. The author tries for a voice that rings with the guileless honesty of childhood, but the child comes off as cloying and strangely heartless, thanks mostly to the sour little saga she has to narrate, and this sordid material is made no better by being telegraphed by someone too innocent to understand.