As she begins high school, Thea is forced to face some hard truths about her family and about a teacher who has fostered her musical ability. Second of four children cramped into the second floor of the house where Dad grew up (his sister lives downstairs), Thea has kept top grades and become an outstanding clarinetist, even though Mom uses her as a drudge and Dad finds home life so dissonant (it is--no one seems fond of anyone else in this family, except for Mom overindulging the eldest) that he spends most of his time in the local bar. Two things keep Thea going--new friend Marilyn, who has a crush on music teacher Mr. MacGraw; and getting into the small orchestral ensemble, where she can lose herself in fine music. Meanwhile, Thea makes discoveries: Dad had another wife and child, whose college support has drained the family finances; Mom is in love with a teacher at the school where she has a job as aside; MacGraw not only has a tragic past but also lives in a slovenly house and is on the verge of divorce. Nonetheless, Thea finds comfort in him as a father figure; but when, in the book's final pages, he makes sexual overtures, it is her own father who helps her realize that she is not at fault and must go on with her music in spite of the incident. Though there are problems here (Dad's support is not presaged; it's debatable whether Dad would fail to accuse MacGraw or whether Thea could go on with her music under him), the characters are believable, nonstereotypical, and well-drawn, the action taut. Bleak as it is, many readers will recognize this world and perhaps take courage from Thea's gentle persistence.