The breathy, tentative love story of a pair of 11-year-old girls forms the basis of this meandering tale--a younger version of Erhart's Unusual Company (1987) and just as murky. With her doctor father and housewife mother, Augusta Cotton lives on the ""right"" side of the river that bisects her small hometown. Helen Walsh lives on the wrong side, near the factory, with Harry, her mentally handicapped brother; Jordan, their spooky widowed mother; and Joan, a perky female taxi-driver who supports and encourages them all. An upbeat attitude becomes more difficult as Helen develops a case of lupus and Jordan starts wandering around town nights tussling with the spirit of her late husband. Nevertheless, Augusta falls in love with Helen and Jordan both, choosing the Walshes as sole refuge from unhelpful parents and her own increasingly distant, puzzling self. While lupus turns Helen's skin yellow, white, and yellow again, Augusta pries into the Walshes' dreary and depressing, if unconventional, history--an effort that leads to much aimless soul-searching by all concerned while climbing the local hills, picnicking on an abandoned airfield, and exploring the banks of the river. In the end, the Walshes finally reveal their secret trauma, but even the resolution of the mystery--the story of Helen's father's death and her brother's survival--hardly compensates for so much tedious chatter. An earnest, somber treatment that generally fails to entertain.