At 17, responsible Will finds his circumstances as difficult as they are unusual: his feckless older sister Paige, who is his guardian, indulges in one more disruptive whim by pulling him out of their beach-house home to settle in the California desert. The jobs she's found--he'll cook at the local cafe while she waits tables--work out predictably: he must continually clean up after her while she's out with new friend Timothy, a mellow New Age type. Meanwhile, Will too makes friends: Sam, a middle-aged loner who teaches him to whittle; and Mike, angry, talented daughter of a self-centered archeologist. Together, the three construct Sam's new adobe house, while Sam and Mike play a critical role in Will's difficult declaration of independence: now free at 18, he'll leave Paige to her uncertain fate and go to college. As in her other skillfully written novels (Invincible Summer, 1987), Ferris's uniquely individual central characters are drawn with winning sympathy; their dialogue sparkles with wisdom and humor. Ferris takes Will's point of view in addressing differences in style between male and female bonding, both explicitly (Mike, an irrepressible talker, discusses everything) and implicitly--a thoughtfully developed theme that gives this engaging coming-of-age story added depth.