Three teens, variously abandoned and abused, become involved in a small-town murder that exposes their own exploitation in revealing ways.
Grace has arrived in town after running away from horrific abuse by her older brothers and an uncaring mother. After the death of her parents, JJ is stuck with her dope-fiend uncle, practically catatonic aunt and uncontrollable cousin Jon. Mick’s father is a thief, and they’ve been moving around for so many years that Mick is determined to make changes and stop the cycle in this new town of Portage, Mont. Similar in age, the three take an unusual outing on a hot summer day, including wild boy Jon just to stop his whining. The dead body they discover by the river sets off a series of events akin to a tumbling deck of cards in this town where lawbreaking and -bending are the rule. “Portage was a sewer, rotten with secrets and deals,” Grace learns. The vulnerability of the teens contrasts with their inability to tell right from wrong, particularly evident when Grace does some hooking. Price presents readers with a less action-packed tale than his usual fare, but it's just as heartbreaking a picture of how our society fails adolescents as they come of age.
A paltry few good guys try to balance cunning and pervasive evil in this disturbing mystery. (Mystery. 14-18)