A brutal tale of two teen-agers' struggle to escape years of neglect and poverty--readers will find food for thought here, but they'll need strong stomachs. Harry White and his older sister Helen have been forced to learn how to take care of themselves: their mother, ""tired all the time,"" does little; their father refuses to be ""regimented"" by steady work. As Harry, the narrator, says over and over again, the Whites are considered trash by their small-town neighbors. In an effort to win acceptance, Helen conforms to expectations, becomes a shoplifter and runaway, and is arrested on prostitution and drug charges. Harry takes a different path, assembling proof that the local factory is illegally polluting the river. Both end up where they started, though a bit wiser; Helen is unreformed and waiting out her probation, Harry's project is buried by the townfolk, who need the factory. The story is full of weak, corrupt, abusive adults, about whom Harry learns that he may not be able to beat them, but he need no longer think of himself as trash. Harry and Helen fight their father to a draw, in a characteristically bitter, violent climax.