Starched with convincing insights into childhood fears (the author is a child psychotherapist) and mellow with appreciations of 1920s North London: an appealing tale of a scaredy-cat kid finding her footing in a shaky universe. Scrawny, seven-year-old Flora, one of six children of a loving pair of ex-domestic servants, is convinced that there's something awful the matter: ""I must be Soppy. There were quite a few soppy children about, and they were also known as Mentally Deficient."" After all, Flora has ""habits""--like head-shaking--and terrible fears, new ones cropping up every day. If you bit off sewing threads, would they wind around your heart and kill you? Would tight garters stop your blood? And, determined to be kind in such a dangerous world, Flora gives a coconut kiss to black-toothed, grubby, fit-prone schoolmate Ruby--which leads to daily tributes of more sweets, then pennies, then worse: Ruby, the damaged offspring of drunken, thieving parents, becomes a monstrous threat. Still, while Flora scrimps for her daily tribute to escape Ruby, there are bright oases: one moment in a garden where, in the humming greenery, ""I knew that the place was alive. . . I was thrillingly and frighteningly aware of myself""; Christmas and outings with her family, prizes at school; a new best friend in shabby Enid. Then Flora will almost die of diphtheria--in the same hospital ward where poor Ruby does die: ""Some careless prayer of mine had been answered in a terrible way. . . and if she were no longer soppy she would know by now how cruel her life had been and understand I had been ashamed of her."" And, back at home, Flora has grand, brave tales to tell her sisters. . . while renouncing unfashionable Enid (""my shame made my neck burn""). Without the fevered, acute adult background of Close the Door Behind You (p. 268)--but a warming portrait nonetheless, of a child fighting her way up through peer taboos and her own malleable ego.