Powerless both as the youngest child of parents preoccupied with an angry, jobless eldest brother and as the third who often seems to make a crowd with her two closest friends, Sarah has some inner strengths that begin to develop on their own when she finds a magical stick that allows her to force people to do her bidding. The pencil-sized stick at first seems innocent enough in Sarah's hands--it causes Beth and Katherine to include her, gets Dad to go on a family outing they all enjoy, even gets rebellious Donald to clean up his room. But Sarah is soon uneasy; it doesn't seem right to force people, even when they are unaware of her power. Though the results are usually good (a typical third child, Sarah's wishes for others are entirely to their advantage), she begins to experiment with persuasion without the benefit of the stick. After capitulating to the local bully's request that she demand free ice creams from an old woman who can ill-afford to give them (full amends are made), she tries to get rid of the stick, but it has one more mission: Donald threatens suicide, and with the stick's help, or perhaps with the new confidence it has taught her together with her love for him, Sarah talks him out of it. A thoughtful exploration of the discovery of constructive assertiveness by a naturally nondominant child, Townsend's brief novel offers the realistic development of a common fantasy, authentic characters and relationships, enough action to hold interest, and a satisfyingly dramatic conclusion. A fine addition to the British author and critic's impressive list of books for young people.