Joe Logan, at age twelve, endures the illness and alcoholism of his father, a ""retired hero"" of the Irish Rebellion, the teary bitterness of his mother who works at ""menial tasks"" because someone must, and the peevish sarcasm of the schoolmistress who mocks his fledgling poems. Around him, in contemporary Londonderry, some British soldiers die by sniper fire while others come by night to turn out his street, his house, his sodden father. No wonder young Joe, who wants only to be ""safely loved,"" is devoted to Kathleen, the young, lonely, chain-smoking schoolteacher who befriends him with hot chocolate and talk. No wonder he fears the homecoming of older brother Brendan, Dad's favorite, who will take over his father, his bed, his friend, and fulfill--with Joe's unwitting help--Kathleen's fear of ""something awful happening."" So Joe's innocence (""O God. . . don't let me grow up"") and his hopes die at once within doors and without. Domestic hostility is echoed by gunfire in the streets as this terse, understated novel evokes the gyp of war-torn childhood now in Northern Ireland.