While her parents, Chad and Jessie, consider relocating to Minnesota, Amanda stays with the family of her bossy, spiteful cousin. Elinore has long been the undisputed leader of the local children (among them, cousin Nelson), so Amanda challenges her, setting off petty wrangles and power struggles. Amanda turns to Cynthia, an older girl from a poor, troubled family harboring a terrible secret about a neighborhood child's tragic disappearance. Through a letter drafted by Amanda, Cynthia, and Nelson, the truth comes out, and a sad, tortured life comes to a violent conclusion. Miller's well-written debut has a stoic narrator in Amanda. But with its centerpiece the suffocation of a child, this is glum and gothic. There's not much light in this clearing even when it's washed clean in the end.