A debut collection of scary realist stories that derives much of its power from the author's casual style--her matter-of-fact way of recording the most violently dysfunctional families from a young person's point of view. What's sad and depressing is that Robinson's narrators don't seem to realize just how screwed-up their lives are. At one extreme, in ""Seven and Counting,"" the daughter of a serial-murderer mom fears that someday her mother will return for her or, even worse, that her genes will inevitably drive her to some bloody fate. In the title story, the young male narrator remains oddly loyal to his violent family. Though his parents are both alcoholics and his older brother a mean druggie, he turns down an offer from his English teacher to come live with her and her husband. Trapped in the cold and comfortless landscape of remote Canada, Robinson's teenagers can't get a break. The girl who lives on a reservation in ""Queen of the North,"" scarred by early sexual abuse, resigns herself to a life of brawling, getting high, and promiscuity. The long novella, ""Contact Sports,"" is edgy and disorienting, a weird tale of psychological torture that portrays a young boy in conflict with his older cousin, ""a whacked out drug addict who likes to play God."" The epileptic son of an unmarried alcoholic, Tom barely manages to hold things together, so his cousin's arrival with wads of money seems a godsend to his mother. Kicked out of the Army for a violent incident, the crazed cousin now dedicates himself to Tom's makeover, from grungy punk slob to solid citizen. The two begin a lethal psycho-duel, raising the ante with each act of reciprocal vengeance. The kids in these rough, bitter stories worry about the basics (food, clothes, housing) and, with their creator, never indulge in theorizing or preaching. Robinson's a first-timer who can truly command attention.