"Human beings are connected by the ghastly as well as the glorious," the author says--and demonstrates--in this intense, painful novel. Teen-age characters have been knocked around in Crutcher's other stories, but not to this extent: Dillon Hemingway, still trying to recover from the effects of watching his older brother Preston commit suicide, meets Jen Lawless, a classmate who's been sexually abused--first by her father, then by her stepfather. The other woman in Dillon's life is Stacy, Preston's old girlfriend, who took a long trip after Preston's suicide and now has a baby she claims is her cousin's. Threats of violence--from a motorcycle gang looking for Dillon and from JeWs twisted stepfather--underscore acts of courage: Jen finally confiding in Dillon, Stacy announcing over the school intercom that the baby is actually hers. Told partly in long, articulate letters from Dillon to his dead brother, and partly in a third-person narrative with the point of view shifting from one character to another, the story has a patchwork quality. Stacy, Jen, and Dillon cut noble, heroic figures that, with the toe-neat ending, give this an air of unreality; even so, Crutcher probes so many tender areas here that readers may end by feeling exhausted and emotionally bruised.