A gritty but homespun debut that renders farm life as a mixed bag of vibrant colors, bad smells, and uncontained sexuality. It's 1941, and 15-year-old Beth's days--between milking cows, shoveling manure, and rambling through the menacing wilderness near her family's dairy farm in western Canada--are very full. Her father is a tyrant who's both sexually and physically abusive. Her mother, a healer and a wonderful cook, seems badly cowed: Her attempts to protect her daughter are ineffectual, and she'd rather deny than confront the fact that Beth's muscular beauty is setting everyone in the vicinity on edge. Two young farmhands from the nearby Indian reservation harbor crushes, and a schoolmate's interest culminates in a violent assault. Nora, a young half-Indian woman, also lusts after Beth, and the pair's sex-tinged friendship allows Beth access to the reservation world that is usually off- limits to outsiders. The playmate/lovers listen to the ominous warnings of Nora's grandmother about a murderous coyote spirit that may be behind several mysterious deaths. Finally, Beth's father carries one of his vendettas too far and is carted off to an institution. Her mother, meantime, buckles down and copes, while Beth taps into the power of her anger and confronts a malignant stranger (or is he a coyote spirit?) head on. Atmospherics are the real strength here: There's lots of raw down-on-the-farm unpleasantness, such as a bloody, bungled operation on a cow. Nature weighs in with showy effects. And there's a bracing vision of female strength: Kitchen wizardry (recipes are included) is complemented by less traditional virtues, such as the ability to clean the barn, patch up quarrels, and use a firm clear voice to challenge and scare off potential assailants. A robust but richly observed coming-of-age story, then, of a complex young woman whose growth and resilience are celebrated without an iota of sentimentality.