Ellis' marvelous debut (A Family Project, 1988) would be hard to match, but its admirers should be happy with this cleanly written, perceptive second novel. It's 1957; Peggy (12) and her family have just moved to Vancouver. Painfully shy, Peggy gets off on the wrong foot with the girls at school when she's caught in an uncharacteristic, boasting lie. She does make two friends: the aging Chinese ""houseboy,"" Sing, of the haughty old woman next door; and George Slobodkin, 11, son of a Russian Ã‰migrÃ‰ who is caretaker of her father's new church. When Peggy and George enter a summer puppet contest, Mr. Slobodkin provides a Russian folk tale, and Sing helps by suggesting shadow puppets and critiquing their show. But when Sing attends the performance without his employer's permission, the lady reveals the extent of her tyranny and prejudice: Sing is fired, and the kids are left to learn just how callous his treatment has been. Wonderfully individual characters are created here, as in the earlier story, by an accumulation of unique, revealing detail: the overearnest hat George insists on wearing even though it makes him the bullies' target; the hilarious homemade insults with which Peggy's family defuses animosity (""Cranky old sump pump""). A wealth of memorable scenes--poignant, suspenseful, funny--make every page a pleasure. Another warm, thought-provoking story from a fine author.