Two young girls come of age in a Depression-era Ohio River Valley town--a poignant nostalgic exercise from the author of the mass-market Country Club Drive (1985). The time is 1936, and the place is the little town of Marietta, Ohio. The unnamed narrator is an 11-year-old girl whose family has yet to be touched by the Depression: her father is an assistant hank manager, her mother a pampered housewife. All changes, though, when the father is demoted to teller, and the family is forced to sell their house and move to an apartment in a rough section of town. Their next-door neighbors turn out to be the boisterous, battling Hart family--Lacey and Big Hart, and their children, Valentine, Black, and Broken (which is as cute as it sounds, but Hamlin's stoW has enough power to sweep the reader past that). Valentine takes the somewhat prissy narrator under her wing and teaches her how to live in low-rent style and survive the slum school they both attend. Then during the summer, Valentine gets a job taking care of a certain Mr. Grey, a refined, once-wealthy man crippled in a car accident. Valentine falls in love with him, begins to hate his bitchy wife Christina, and silently cheers as Mr. Grey and Kathy Flint, the gentle wife of an abusive truck driver, begin a platonic affair during the long empty summer afternoons. Unfortunately, however, Mrs. Grey finds out and reacts hysterically, threatening to tell Kathy's husband (who will surely kill her). The narrator and Valentine see Mr. Grey teaching a mysterious trick to his Doberman, and are certain he plans to kill the truck driver--they're horrified at the end to discover the dog's actual target. Despite an overdose of the rambunctious Harts--and a somewhat contrived finale: an affectionate, moving novel.