After the fresh, distinctive appeal of M. V. Sexton Speaking (1981), it's disappointing to find Newton taking on a tired older-fiction formula (family in psychic disarray) and giving it such strained, humorless treatment. Her narrator is Neal Sloan, 15, son of the Baptist minister in small-town Gideon, N.C.--and, boy, does Neal have problems. His preacher-dad is stiff, dictatorial, afraid of local public-opinion. His mother is weak. His older sister Arleen is rebelling like crazy (though tamely enough by today's standards), going out with crude Pete Cauthin--who keeps picking fights with Neal. Little brother Georgie, 7, is a basket case: apparently unloved by both parents, he has come to believe that his ""Real"" family has been replaced by sci-fi-ish clones. And Neal himself, though presented as basically normal, is determined to keep secret the fact that he has ""a real genius for jazz""--learning and playing on the sly over at the house of Mrs. T., a lovely-wise-widow piano teacher. (Neal's reasons for this secrecy are never made even remotely plausible.) Then, after a few minor crises at home and at school, the Sloan family troubles escalate: Georgie's spaciness forces Mother to consider counseling (with trepidation); someone is spreading rumors that Reverend Sloth is unstable (which he surely does seem to be); that someone, it is soon revealed, is none other than wee Georgie--who is subjected to a vicious parental tongue-lashing. And so finally, predictably, Georgie runs away--leading to a search, promises of psychiatric treatment (when found, Georgie is catatonic), and Neal's coming-out of the musical closet: ""'I hid it from Georgie!' I screamed. 'Even though he would have loved it so!. . . This is me--Neal Slosh--the real Neal Sloan--and I ain't gonna hide no more!"" A dubious psychological grab-bag--with under-developed hangups, fuzzy backgrounds (the music is especially disappointing), and a limp, shrill windup.