After a ho-hum start, this first novel--about a wide-eyed ingenue who sets out to experience Real Life in Boston--really starts to hum. Ann Merrill, fresh from high school in the suburbs and on her way to Wellesley College, has come to spend the summer of 1957 working in a Boston bookstore. Defying Mother's edicts, she leaves her safe women's hotel and moves into a boardinghouse on Beacon Hill, where, right away, she encounters--gasp!--a homosexual and discovers--gulp!--that the woman in the room across the hall is a former mental patient. Ann, a girl who really knows her way around a fingerbowl, is out of her depth here. She turns for reassurance to her daring Aunt Chloe (who has traveled in Europe!), and she decides to stick it out on Beacon Hill--it's Real Life. Meanwhile, once Ann moves past the amazing revelation that homosexuals are as nice as other people and a mental patient can be your friend, her story starts to take off. Unwillingly, she falls in love with Oscar, an MIT student who works with her in the bookstore, and the progress of their affair is funny and touching and true--Appleton writes great bawdy, innocent-eyed sex scenes. Finally, after a crisis that shatters Ann's safe little world, she takes stock of her life and makes some new plans, plans that will take her--to Mother's dismay--beyond Boston. It's all a trifle hackneyed, and Ann's arch narrative style doesn't add much. She's the kind of girl who won't say "something smelled" if she can say "an odor emanated" instead. Still, her story blooms into the kind of coming-of-age novel that overcomes its clichÇs and ends up smelling pretty sweet, no matter which way you say it.