Headstrong daughter of a widowed, drug-addicted ne'er-do-well experiences adolescence in a blue-collar Chicago suburb in the 1960s and ’70s.
When Robin Simonsen is only nine years old, her mother dies of cancer and her father, Heath, moves the pair into his own mother's trash heap of a home in Lilac, Ill. There, he and Goldie, a former Vegas showgirl, sell broken or stolen items in their front yard. The small house is soon overrun with renegade characters, mostly men, who are there for Goldie's brash charms and Heath's latest venture: drug-peddling. Heath even sets up an old school bus in the backyard, where a mentally shattered Vietnam vet lives and where local teenagers smoke marijuana. Robin drifts from house to bus to school with no sense of boundaries or rules. She does learn some things along the way, mainly that she is attracted to both drugs and girls. She also defiantly befriends a young boy, Freddie, whose African-American family is the first in Lilac. His gentle, studious family is the antithesis of her own roguish clan, and Freddie is a good influence on the bright girl. Once she reaches high school, however, she uses drugs as a way to gain access to the cool crowd in an elaborate effort to become close to the school's prettiest girl, Lynn. As Robin struggles with her budding sexuality, she starts to lose her grip on what she needs to do to survive in her slippery world. To make matters worse, her father, a long-time heroin addict, is taking longer and longer trips away from home; Freddie is disappearing into a promising future for himself; and Lynn remains clueless about Robin's true feelings.
Searing but incomplete coming-of-age novel; the characters are strongly outlined but the author fails to fill them out.