Ellen's euphoric start in seventh grade ends abruptly when she learns that her mother is pregnant--""I think Ellen's got a touch of sibling rivalry fever,"" her father says of her unenthusiastic response to the news. After baby brother Barry is diagnosed as having cerebral palsy, Ellen's burden of anger and guilt culminates in shoplifting and illness. With the help of her mother's new friend Maribeth, mother of a teenager with CP, they learn to cope with Barry's needs and their own feelings. Freedom from guilt opens Ellen's heart; she becomes totally absorbed with Barry, even fighting her father's attempts to care for him. Stressed when he regresses after Dad returns to sea duty, Ellen accidentally overmedicates Barry and her mother severely restricts her involvement in his care, insisting they sham activities without him. Gradually, Ellen does develop her own life, complete with best friend, potential boyfriend, and a new closeness to her father, now home for two years. Metzger has a vivid and incisive narrative style, but this ambitious first novel is too long, too full, and not always credible, while overly intent messages distance the reader. Nonetheless, the focus on Ellen and her struggles with the complexities of growing up, sorting out her identity, and establishing her place in a family in crisis does result in a story with appeal for patient readers.