Williams (Tsubu the Little Snail, 1995, etc.) captures the easy rhythms of Florida speech and a vivid lakeside setting--a balm to her heroine's troubled spirit--in this story of abuse and survival. Caitlynne, 12, does the best she can, but she'll never be accepted by the popular girls, one of whom says, ""I'm not trying to be mean. . . . But if you'd just try and keep clean you'd look nicer."" Popularity, though, is not a true priority for Caitlynne; she is too busy trying to navigate around her unpredictably abusive mother who lashes out verbally and physically at Caitlynne and her sister, Cara. Despite the abuse, Caitlynne loves her mother; she begs her to stay when she prepares to go away for a few months to work on her novel. How will Caitlynne take care of herself and Cara on the little money her mother left? Worse, will she and Cara be separated if the authorities find out their mother is gone? The strength of the novel is Caitlynne herself: Her connection to nature, affection for her sister, and budding romance with baseball-buddy Brandon combine to see her through the tough (really tough) spots. When she realizes she's in over her head, Caitlynne courageously goes for help. Her story is gracefully written and hard to put down.